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Nests of subterranean fungus-growing termites (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) as nutrient patches for grasses in savannah ecosystems

Abstract : Savannah are ecosystems in which mineral nitrogen is considered as a limiting factor for plant productivity. They are heterogeneous and spatially structured in patches, or islands, where mineral nitrogen content is concentrated. Among the soil macrofauna, termites of the Macrotermitinae subfamily are major determinants of soil heterogeneity through the biogenic underground nest structures (fungus-comb chambers) they produce. To study the role of the heterogeneity created by termites on Pennisetum pedicellatum, an herbaceous grass species was grown in greenhouse. This was carried out using an homogeneous soil poor in mineral nitrogen, and an heterogeneous soil with patch, made of (i) Ancistrotermes cavithorax fungus-comb chamber wall and (ii) soil with the same mineral nitrogen content as the termite handled soil. Plants exhibited a better growth on patch of termite-modified soil whereas no significant differences were shown with the supply of mineral nitrogen. The presence of fungus-comb chamber wall material resulted in an increase of fine root biomass and root/shoot ratio. We conclude that termites, through their building activities, may create nutrient patches available to grasses. Concurrently, our data illustrate that the higher mineral nitrogen content in termite-built structures is not the only factor responsible for plant growth.
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https://hal-bioemco.ccsd.cnrs.fr/bioemco-00396325
Contributor : Pascal Jouquet <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 3:58:07 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 3:47:14 AM

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Pascal Jouquet, Virginie Tavernier, Luc Abbadie, Michel Lepage. Nests of subterranean fungus-growing termites (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) as nutrient patches for grasses in savannah ecosystems. African Journal of Ecology, Wiley, 2005, 43 (3), pp.191-196. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-2028.2005.00564.x⟩. ⟨bioemco-00396325⟩

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