Termites are an integral component of savanna-woodland ecosystems and the Kruger National Park (KNP) is no exception. In undisturbed habitats, termites have an essential role in establishing and sustaining soil fertility in tropical (hot and humid) biomes similar to that of earthworms in temperate (mild) regions. The vast numbers of mound-building termites consume large quantities of plant material, thus forming an important link in nutrient cycling (fragmentation of litter).
All but three of the seven families of the order of Isoptera (termites) occur in the KNP, represented by 22 genera. Of these, five genera exhibit mound-building behaviour and belong to the family Termitidae. Three such subfamilies occur: Macrotermitinae, Termitinae and Nasutitermitinae.
Ecological role – what do they do?
Apart from being a major food source across the fauna spectrum, termites facilitate soil formation and aeration. Termite mounds shield seedlings against fire. Herbivores tend to utilize the vegetation on mounds, due to improved palatability resulting from higher nitrogen levels.
Consumption of litter in natural systems is not as obvious as it is in periods of drought. In the case of severe drought, competition for food between herbivorous mammals and termites become extreme. However, mild droughts may favour the termites, as more litter is available to them. Termites should be regarded as highly beneficial organisms of undisturbed veld.
Termite research – what are we doing?
Only three termite studies have been conducted in the past. The first was done by Dr WGH Coaton (1962) who collected taxonomic data across the spectrum of families. The second study was by Dr HP van der Schijff (1965) who discussed influences of some mound-building termites botanically. Thirdly, Dr LEO Braack (1995) studied non-mound-building termites with regards to seasonal and drought responses in the southern parts of the KNP.
Progressively more information on macro-insects is becoming available,
especially where conservation authorities are responsive to the importance
Based on thoughts conveyed in
a live interview with Radio Safari (SA) on 24 August 1998 (13:30–14:00)
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