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Abundance and diversity of termites in a savanna woodland reserve in tropical Australia

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Abstract

This study contributes to the paucity of knowledge on the structure of Australian tropical savanna termite assemblages, compared with that available for tropical savannas elsewhere in the world. Termite species diversity, frequency of occurrence and functional diversity in Charles Darwin National Park, a savanna woodland reserve in tropical northern Australia, were assessed. In four 50 × 50 m sites, a direct search and bait sampling protocol was used to sample mounds, standing and lying dead wood, litter, soil and arboreal nest microhabitats for termites between April and June 2003. Results were compared with a priori predictions of termite community structure based on the work by Braithwaite et al. (1988). Sixteen species from nine genera and three families (Mastotermitidae, Rhinotermitidae and Termitidae) were recorded, including the first record of Ephelotermes taylori (Hill) from open savanna woodland habitat and the first official record of Macrognathotermes errator Miller from north Australian savanna. The family Termitidae represented 69% of termite occurrences. From this family, the wood/soil interface feeder Nasutitermes eucalypti (Mjöberg) represented 30% of encounters. High levels of termite activity were recorded at baits within 6 weeks. Four nesting habits were represented: epigeal (mounds above ground), hypogeal (subterranean nests), nests within wood and arboreal nests. Termites were most frequently encountered in epigeal mounds and lying dead wood. Wood and wood/soil interface feeders were the most common. The findings partially supported the a priori predictions proposed. The termite assemblage structure was represented by species commonly found in other Northern Territory savanna woodland habitats. However, species diversity was lower; soil feeders and live wood feeders were less common and grass-harvesting species were absent. Soil nitrogen and phosphorus and species richness and patchiness of ground vegetation may contribute to these differences. The lower species diversity recorded contrasts with the richer termite faunas of tropical savannas recorded elsewhere.
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Keywords: Northern Territory; functional groups; termite assemblage structure; termite sampling; wood feeders

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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