Litter Quality Affects Termite Sheeting Production and Water Infiltration in the Soil

Rashmi R Shanbhag, Ajay Harit, Sougueh Cheik, Ekta Chaudhary, Nicolas Bottinelli, R Sundararaj, Pascal Jouquet


This study aimed to understand the relationship between termite food preferences and the ecological benefits derived from their activity in terms of soil dynamics and water infiltration. A field study was carried out for six months with different food baits (elephant dung, Acacia leaves, twigs and leaves of Lantana camara as well as Ficus religiosa, Pterocarpus marsupium, Prosopis juliflora, Michelia champaca, Azadirachta indica and Hevea brasiliensis wood stakes) installed on the soil surface in a semi-deciduous forest in southern India. At the end of the experiment we determined bait consumption rates and the amount of soil sheetings covering the different baits. Water infiltration rates were also measured using the Beerkan method. The initial infiltration rates (i.e. average of the first three infiltration rates) under the baits were compared to those at the end of the experiment (average of the last three infiltration rates when the steady state was reached). Three termite species, Odontotermes obesus, O. feae and Microtermes obesi, were found associated with some of the baits in the study area. Among the different baits, elephant dung and Acacia leaves were the most preferred and a relationship was observed between the quantity of soil sheetings and the bait consumption rate. Termite preference for elephant dung and Acacia leaves was also associated with higher water infiltration rates. However, this difference was only significant at the beginning of the experiment and no significant difference was measured once the steady state was reached. In conclusion, we showed that resource quality was of primary importance for soil sheeting production but that the influence of termites on water infiltration remained limited, most likely because of the low stability of their tunnels in the soil.


Bait consumption; Odontotermes spp.; India; Forest; foraging activity

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