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How Could Forest Dwelling Termites Possibly Survive Massive Wildfires

Traces of termites eat old wood.

It is a shame that termites are commonly regarded with disdain. Although it is true that termites cause billions of dollars in structural damage every year in the United States alone, these admittedly destructive insects are capable of feats that no other insect, animal or even human could accomplish. It is becoming increasingly well known that termites promote vegetative growth by removing dead plant matter from the ground before converting it into matter that contributes to soil fertility. Therefore, just by consuming wood, termites provide two seperate environmentally beneficial services. Even more impressive are the naturally air conditioned and architecturally complicated 30 foot tall nesting mounds that higher termites build in African and Asian regions. As impressive as these abilities are, no degree of inventiveness or mutual cooperation among termites can prevent them from becoming incinerated in forest fires. After all, forest fires can span hundreds of acres and can travel at fourteen miles per hour, destroying absolutely every animal, plant and insect in its path. Despite the small amount of studies concerning termite morality during wildfires, their does exist valid scientific evidence to suggest that forest-dwelling termites can indeed survive wildfires.

It goes without saying that a great number of termites parish during wildfires, but given their high abundance relative to other forest dwelling arthropods, an unexpectedly high amount also survive. The reason for this has to do with their subterranean nature, as termites can seek refuge from wildfires several feet below the soil’s surface. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood and dampwood termites are not afforded the same protection from wildfires, and subterranean termites must already be present well below the ground’s surface in order to survive a wildfire. Some studies have demonstrated that mound-building termites can survive wildfires by remaining within their nesting mounds. Due to the unique composition of termite mounds, which is best described as “hard clay,” they are well insulated from the extreme heat emitted by a wildfire. Several studies have also revealed that termite populations are more abundant than other insect populations following wildfires. While termites certainly have an advantage over other insects when it comes to surviving wildfires, studies on this topic differ in their results and further research is necessary before positing that termites are relatively unaffected by wildfires.

Do you believe that any other forest-dwelling insect groups could have an advantage when it comes to surviving wildfires?

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