Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Termites, fungi and climate change


Climate change models could have a thing or two to learn from termites and fungi, according to a new study released this week.

For a long time scientists have believed that temperature is the dominant factor in determining the rate of wood decomposition worldwide. Decomposition matters because the speed at which woody material are broken down strongly influences the retention of carbon in forest ecosystems and can help to offset the loss of carbon to the atmosphere from other sources. That makes the decomposition rate a key factor in detecting potential changes to the climate.

UCF biologist Joshua King is an expert on termites and ants.

Credit: UCF

But scientists from Yale, the University of Central Florida and SUNY Buffalo State found that fungi and termites, which help break down wood, may play a more significant role in the rate of decomposition than temperature alone.

The group's findings appear in this week's edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.

... more about:
»Termites »UCF »ants »blocks »decomposition »ecology »factor »fungi »temperature

"The big surprise of this work was the realization that the impact of organisms surpassed climate as a control of decomposition across spatial scales," said Joshua King, a biologist at UCF and co-author of the paper. "Understanding the ecology and biology of fungi and termites is a key to understanding how the rate of decomposition will vary from place to place."

So how did scientists originally come up with temperature as the main factor in decomposition? It has to do with data and math. Scientists most often construct a model based on the average decomposition rates of sites that are in close proximity to each other.

In this case, it appears that each local number matter because they reflect the activity of fungi and termites. The team suggests that scientists need to embrace the variability found across data collected from many different sites instead of averaging it all together to create better models with more accurate predictions.

The team reached this conclusion after running a 13-month experiment. They distributed 160 blocks of pine tree wood across five sub-regions of temperate forest in the eastern U.S. — from Connecticut to northern Florida — and then monitored the decay that occurred.

They selected similar forest types, hardwood deciduous forests, to focus on major differences in climate across the regional gradient. (The average annual temperature in southern New England is about 11 degrees Celsius cooler than Florida.) Within each of the five sub-regions they placed the wood blocks in different types of terrain to evaluate the effects of local versus regional factors as controls on decomposition.

"Most people would try to make sure everything was as standard as possible," said Mark A. Bradford, an assistant professor of terrestrial ecosystem ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the study. "We said, 'Well, let's generate as much variation as possible.' So we put some blocks on south-facing slopes, where they would be warmer in the summer, and others on north-facing slopes where it's colder. We put some on top of ridges and others next to streams where it was wetter."

After 13 months, they measured how much wood had been lost, whether to the consumption of fungi growing on the wood or to termites consuming the wood.

According to their analysis, local-scale factors explained about three quarters of the variation in wood decomposition, while climate explained only about one quarter, contrary to the expectation that climate should be the predominant control.

"We're reaching the wrong conclusion about the major controls on decomposition because of the way we've traditionally collected and looked at our data," Bradford said. "That in turn will weaken the effectiveness of climate prediction."

The team's recommendation: collect more data at local sites and improve our understanding of how local conditions affect the organisms that drive decomposition, because they could significantly improve the effectiveness of climate change projections.


Co-authors of the study include: Robert J. Warren II from SUNY Buffalo State; Petr Baldrian from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic; Thomas W. Crowther, Daniel S. Maynard and Emily E. Oldfield from Yale; William R. Wieder, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO and Stephen A. Wood from Columbia University.

The National Science Foundation and Yale Climate & Energy Institute funded the research.

King is an assistant professor of biology at UCF. He has multiple degrees including a Ph.D in entomology from the University of Florida, a master's degree in education from Tufts University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Tufts. He is an expert on termites and ants and his work is currently funded by the National Science Foundation to study the ecology of ants in Florida and the southern US.

Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Termites UCF ants blocks decomposition ecology factor fungi temperature

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s
26.11.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht Network analysis shows systemic risk in mineral markets
16.11.2015 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>