Termites mitigate the effects of drought in tropical rainforest

L. A. Ashton, H. M. Griffiths* (Corresponding Author), C. L. Parr, T. A. Evans, R. K. Didham, F. Hasan, Y. A. Teh, H. S. Tin, C. S. Vairappan, P. Eggleton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)
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Termites perform key ecological functions in tropical ecosystems, are strongly affected by variation in rainfall, and respond negatively to habitat disturbance. However, it is not known how the projected increase in frequency and severity of droughts in tropical rainforests will alter termite communities and the maintenance of ecosystem processes. Using a large-scale termite suppression experiment, we found that termite activity and abundance increased during drought in a Bornean forest. This increase resulted in accelerated litter decomposition, elevated soil moisture, greater soil nutrient heterogeneity, and higher seedling survival rates during the extreme El Nino drought of 2015-2016. Our work shows how an invertebrate group enhances ecosystem resistance to drought, providing evidence that the dual stressors of climate change and anthropogenic shifts in biotic communities will have various negative consequences for the maintenance of rainforest ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-177
Number of pages4
Issue number6423
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: This work was supported by the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) with permission from the Maliau Basin Management Committee. We thank G. Reynolds, U. Jami, and L. Kruitbos for coordinating fieldwork; S. Both and U. Kritzler for help in establishing the experimental plots; R. Walsh for providing rainfall data; and A. Zanne and A. Cheesman for discussions on experimental design. We thank J. Nash from Bayer Southeast Asia Pte-Ltd, Singapore, for donating Premise 200SC and Agenda 10SC. We thank J. Rees, A. Tagliabue, M. Begon, R. Williams, W. Cheng, C. Dahlsjö, R. Kitching, and J. Barlow for comments on the manuscript. Finally, we thank all our field assistants: R. Binti Manber, A. Jupri, F. John, Y. Binti Suffian, E. Bin Esing, D. Bin Paul, Z. Bin Angau, A. Allbanah Bin Anchun, N. Angau, D. Ku Shamirah Binti Pg Bakar, E. Binti Nahun, R. Rusili, A. Bin Rantau, R. Bin Sahamin, A. Mastor, M. Adzim Bin Rahili, M. Azuan, H. Nasir, and N. Fazzli. Funding: This publication is a contribution from the UK NERC-funded Biodiversity And Land-use Impacts on Tropical Ecosystem Function (BALI) consortium (NERC grant NE/L000016/1). Author contributions: C.L.P., H.M.G., L.A.A., P.E., and T.A.E. conceived and designed the experiment; C.L.P., P.E., and T.A.E. established the experimental plots; H.M.G., L.A.A., and P.E. collected the data; H.M.G., L.A.A., P.E., and R.K.D. analyzed the data; C.S.V., F.H., and H.S.T. carried out laboratory analysis; H.M.G. and L.A.A. led the writing of the manuscript with significant input from C.L.P., P.E., R.K.D., and Y.A.T. Competing interests: None declared. Data and materials availability: Data have been deposited in the NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (37).


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