Section 72
Chapter 71,043

Moisture alone is sufficient to impart strength but not weathering resistance to termite mound soil

Zachariah, N.; Murthy, T.G.; Borges, R.M.

Royal Society Open Science 7(8): 200485


ISSN/ISBN: 2054-5703
PMID: 32968515
DOI: 10.1098/rsos.200485
Accession: 071042745

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Soil is used for the construction of structures by many animals, at times admixed with endogenous secretions. These additives, along with soil components, are suggested to have a role in biocementation. However, the relative contribution of endogenous and exogenous materials to soil strength has not been adequately established. Termite mounds are earthen structures with exceptional strength and durability including weathering resistance to wind and rain. With in situ and laboratory-based experiments, we demonstrate that the fungus-farming termite Odontotermes obesus which builds soil nest mounds, when given a choice, prefers soil close to its liquid limit for construction. At this moisture content, the soil-water mixture alone even in the absence of termite handling undergoes self-weight consolidation and upon drying attains a monolithic, densely packed structure with compressive strength comparable to the in situ strength of the mound soil; however, the soil-water mixture alone has lower resistance to water erosion than the in situ mound samples, suggesting that termite secretions impart weathering resistance and thereby long-term stability to the mound. Therefore, weathering resistance and compressive strength are conferred by different aspects of termite soil manipulation. Our work provides novel insights into termite mound construction and strength correlates for earthen structures built by animals.

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