How Termites accelerate global warming?

The way termites accelerate global warming is unbelievable

The increase in temperatures on the planet can drive a greater proliferation of termites and the volume of wood they destroy, with the consequent release of large amounts of carbon dioxide, which is one of the gases that causes the ‘greenhouse effect’, according to an international team of scientists including Florida International University biologist Oscar Valverde-Barrantes.

In investigating this ‘vicious cycle’ (climate change-termites-higher temperatures), as FIU biologist Óscar Valverde-Barrantes calls it, they found that termites decompose wood mass ten times faster.”

“We really verified that the termites act as an accelerator of the decomposition process of the pine wood” that was used as a “sieve” in each of the 133 places located on six continents where the two-year experiment was carried out, Valverde-Barrantes said.

In the case of Florida, the FIU biologist located in areas of the Everglades wetlands and in the Keys, in the extreme south of the state, multiple bags with pieces of pine wood inside, some closed to maintain humidity and others with small holes of 3 millimetres in diameter to allow the entry of insects such as termites.

Wood samples in Key West, Florida. Source:  Florida International University

Two years later, measurements were made on the effect of climate on wood decomposition at the observation sites.

Once all the bags were collected and the conditions of the wood examined, the experts verified that “more than 50% of the wood that was in bags with holes had been colonized” by termites.

Not only that, the research revealed that termites, which thrive more in hot climates than in cold ones, “cause the decomposition of the mass of wood to be ten times faster”, highlights the academic.

Unstoppable spread of termites

The first conclusion drawn is that termites “much accelerate the process” of decomposition of colonized wood, compared to the biomass that was not exposed to these insects.

The projections of the study, published in the journal ‘Science‘, reveal the impartial expansion of termites: by the end of the 21st century, they could colonize up to 30% more than their current rate in temperate zones, with the consequent release of more CO2 into the atmosphere.

“This tendency to accumulate more CO2 in the atmosphere can generate a greater stove (greenhouse) effect,” added Valverde-Barrantes, who recommended “considering termite variables in existing models,” something that has not yet been done, to measure how the spread of these insects can accelerate global warming.

Small percentage of populations of insects consume wood

The biologist, also an expert in microbiology and evolution, highlighted as a topic of great personal and professional interest to examine, with a view to the future, “the decomposition process in those particular areas” of Florida, since there, in addition to the termites colonizing the wood, they found beetles, ants and other insects.

Valverde-Berrantes. Source:  Florida International University

“There are other actors that we are not yet including in wood decomposition studies, such as the microbial part and other insects,” he pointed out. He points out the study that only a small percentage of the populations of these insects consume wood from constructions, and the vast majority “destroy wood remains in tropical and subtropical forests.”

Therefore, “if the world becomes more tropical, termites could be a contributing factor for “warmer global temperatures,” a potential threat to accelerate global warming that requires further study and projection modelling, acknowledged the scientist.

But the conclusion of this study should promote, in the biologist’s opinion, the creation of new models that include how “with the increase in temperature the habitat of termites and the decomposition of the wood mass in those areas expand.”


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