"In essence, the highly regular spatial pattern of fertile mounds generated by termites actually increases overall levels of ecosystem production. And it does so in such a profound way," says Todd M. Palmer, assistant professor of biology at the University of Florida and an affiliate of the Mpala Research Centre in Nanyuki, Kenya. "Seen from above, the grid-work of termite mounds in the savanna is not just a pretty picture. The over-dispersion, or regular distribution of these termite mounds, plays an important role in elevating the services this ecosystem provides."
The mechanism through which termite activity is transformed into far-reaching effects on the ecosystem is a complex one. Pringle and Palmer suspect termites import coarse particles into the otherwise fine soil in the vicinity of their mounds. These coarser particles promote water infiltration of the soil, even as they discourage disruptive shrinking and swelling of topsoil in response to precipitation or drought.
The mounds also show elevated levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. All this beneficial soil alteration appears to directly and indirectly mold ecosystem services far beyond the immediate vicinity of the mound.
While further studies will explore the mechanism through which these spatial patterns of termite mounds emerge, Pringle and Palmer suggest that the present work has implications beyond the basic questions of ecology.
"Termites are typically viewed as pests, and as threats to agricultural a
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