Environment Accidental heroes of drought

Accidental heroes of drought

Rainforests rely on one very important ingredient – rain. So what happens during drought?

Researchers at Griffith University have discovered a surprising answer, and it could help some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems survive climate change.

Normally seen as pests, termites turn out to be crucial to the way rainforests function in periods of low rainfall.

Researcher Dr Louise Ashton says the tiny invertebrates speed up decomposition on the forest floor, which helps nutrient cycling and increases moisture in the soil. The same effect could work in other locations, including farmland.

In other words, termites are able to lessen the effects of drought.

Now that’s something to chew over.

“Termites confer important ecosystem services, not only in pristine tropical rainforest but perhaps also in disturbed or even agricultural ecosystems,” Dr Ashton says.

“If termite abundance is reduced with disturbance, these habitats could be particularly sensitive to drought.”

Dr Ashton and colleagues from other universities discovered the role of termites by conducting the first large-scale study in sections of rainforest in Malaysia.

Research to understand sensitive ecosystems is only possible if we support our universities. To keep Australia clever, please sign the petition below.