Termites have wider thermal limits to cope with environmental conditions in savannas

Woon, Joel S ORCID: 0000-0003-2900-266X, Atkinson, David ORCID: 0000-0002-9956-2454, Adu‐Bredu, Stephen, Eggleton, Paul and Parr, Catherine L ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-763X
(2022) Termites have wider thermal limits to cope with environmental conditions in savannas. Journal of Animal Ecology, 91 (4). pp. 766-779.

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The most diverse and abundant family of termites, the Termitidae, evolved in African tropical forests. They have since colonised grassy biomes such as savannas. These open environments have more extreme conditions than tropical forests, notably wider extremes of temperature and lower precipitation levels and greater temporal fluctuations (of both annual and diurnal variation). These conditions are challenging for soft-bodied ectotherms, such as termites, to survive in, let alone become as ecologically dominant as termites have. Here, we quantified termite thermal limits to test the hypothesis that these physiological limits are wider in savanna termite species to facilitate their existence in savanna environments. We sampled termites directly from mound structures, across an environmental gradient in Ghana, ranging from wet tropical forest through to savanna. At each location, we quantified both the Critical Thermal Maxima (CT<sub>max</sub> ) and the Critical Thermal Minima (CT<sub>min</sub> ) of all the most abundant mound-building Termitidae species in the study areas. We modelled the thermal limits in two separate mixed-effects models against canopy cover at the mound, temperature and rainfall, as fixed effects, with sampling location as a random intercept. For both CT<sub>max</sub> and CT<sub>min</sub> , savanna species had significantly more extreme thermal limits than forest species. Between and within environments, areas with higher amounts of canopy cover were significantly associated with lower CT<sub>max</sub> values of the termite colonies. CT<sub>min</sub> was significantly positively correlated with rainfall. Temperature was retained in both models; however, it did not have a significant relationship in either. Sampling location explained a large proportion of the residual variation, suggesting there are other environmental factors that could influence termite thermal limits. Our results suggest that savanna termite species have wider thermal limits than forest species. These physiological differences, in conjunction with other behavioural adaptations, are likely to have enabled termites to cope with the more extreme environmental conditions found in savanna environments and facilitated their expansion into open tropical environments.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: adaptation, Blattodea, ectotherms, physiology, Termitoidae, thermal tolerance, tropics
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences > Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences
Faculty of Science and Engineering > School of Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 10 Mar 2022 12:05
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 21:11
DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13673
Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.13673
Related URLs:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3150509