Termite Eating Habits Have Rendered Climate Change Data Inaccurate

We all know that climate change is a major concern among a majority of the world’s scientists. Despite the scientific certainty concerning the existence of climate change, predicting the consequences of climate change on the ecosystem is not easy. This is due to the fact that climate change is driven by a multitude of different factors. When considering just one factor, such the negative effects of deforestation, scientists must approach every causal factor that leads to deforestation. Obviously, humans contribute greatly to deforestation, but there also exists many non-human factors that cause deforestation. For example, it is important for climate scientists to accurately gauge the rate of wood-rot in forests. The rate of wood-rot determines how much carbon remains in forests. This remaining carbon in forests offsets the atmospheric carbon that is emitted by human industry, such as fossil fuels. Therefore, in order to accurately predict future atmospheric carbon levels, scientists must understand how much carbon is being released by rotting wood. When calculating the speed with which wood rots within forests, climate scientists have been forgetting about one important factor–fungus farming termites.

Understanding how quickly wood rots within forests is essential to understanding the potential impact of climate change, but scientists have never been able to gather reliable data on wood-rot rates. The reason for the historically skewed data concerning wood-rot rates comes as a result of not factoring in how termite activity influences wood-rot. Historically, scientists only considered moisture and temperature as factors that influence wood-rot rates, but a new study says that termites and the fungus that they farm are more important factors. According to one of the researchers, understanding the biology of native termites is key to understanding how rates of wood-rot vary from region to region. The researchers placed blocks of pinewood throughout a variety of different forests from Connecticut to Florida in order to determine how rapidly native termite populations consumed the wood. In addition to wood consumption, many termite species farmed fungus on the wood blocks, which also influenced the rate at which the wood degraded. Surprisingly, the study revealed that termite consumption and termite fungus explained three fourths of the variation in wood-rot rates, while moisture and temperatures only explained about a quarter of the decomposition rates. This study’s finding will allow climate change researchers to make far more accurate predictions.

Have you ever stumbled upon fungus-farming termites while exploring wooded areas?

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