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Modulated effect of the termite Ancistrotermes cavithorax (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) on soil properties according to the structures built

Modulated effect of the termite Ancistrotermes cavithorax (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) on soil properties according to the structures built

Sociobiology 42(2): 403-412

ISSN/ISBN: 0361-6525

Structures built by fungus-growing (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) termites could be considered as an extended phenotype linked to the optimization of a climatic homeostasis and to a better protection against predators. Most of the literature regarding the impact of termites on soil properties refers to termite epigeous mounds. In spite of their abundance in African savannas, few studies deal with the properties of underground fungus-comb chambers and galleries. In this study we compare the physical and chemical properties of funguscomb chamber wall and interconnecting gallery wall from Ancistrotermes cauithorax and relate these properties to the termite ecological require ments (soil structural stability and moisture regime). The termite workers increased the proportion of fine particles and the soil organic matter content in their constructions, as compared to the control soil. No difference was observed in C content between nest and gallery walls, but the nitrogen content was greater in the chamber wall. C:N ratio also decreased significantly from control soil to gallery wall and to chamber wall. These changes could help explain the increase in structural stability of the termite modified soil material. Soil water retention was also improved in termite constructions, and exhibited its greatest values in the chamber wall. Both termite constructions, chamber and gallery walls were very stable. Therefore, we suggested that both types of construction increased the protection against environmental hazards, such as dryness and water flow, and indirectly against predators. Despite similar data in fine particles and carbon content, chamber wall was a better buffer than the gallery wall for maintaining adequate moisture within the nest. We concluded that termite building activities vary according to type of structure edified.

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Accession: 004238094

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