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Termites foretell climate change in Africa's savannas
Date:9/7/2010

res per day. The CAO uses a waveform LiDAR system (light detection and ranging) that maps the 3-dimensional structure of vegetation and, in this case, termite mounds and combines that information with spectroscopic imagingimaging that reveals chemical fingerprints of the species below. It renders the data in stunning 3-D maps.

"We looked at the vegetation and termite mound characteristics throughout enormous areas of African savanna in dry, intermediate, and wet zones," explained Levick. "We found that precipitation, along with elevation, hydrological, and soil conditions determine whether the area will be dominated by grasses or woody vegetation and the size and density of termite mounds."

The advantage of monitoring termite mounds in addition to vegetation is that mounds are so tightly coupled with soil and hydrological conditions that they make it easier to map the hill slope seeplines. Furthermore, vegetation cover varies a lot between wet and dry season, while the mounds are not subject to these fluctuations.

"By understanding the patterns of the vegetation and termite mounds over different moisture zones, we can project how the landscape might change with climate change," explained co-author Greg Asner at Carnegie. "Warming is expected to increase the variability of future precipitation in African savannas, so some areas will get more, while others get less rain. The predictions are that many regions of the savanna will become drier, which suggests more woody species will encroach on today's grasslands. These changes will depend on complex but predictable hydrological processes along hill slopes, which will correspond to pattern changes in the telltale termite mounds we see today from the air."


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Contact: Greg Asner
gpa@stanford.edu
650-380-2828
Carnegie Institution
Source:Eurekalert  

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