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Title Termite communities along a habitat degradation gradient: Patterns and processes for ecosystem function

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Short title Termite communities and habitat degradation

Author(s) Kaib, M.(1); Kagezi, G.(2); Brandl, R.(3)

Presenting author Brandl, R.

Institution(s) (1) Department of Animal Physiology, University of Bayreuth, Universitätsstrasse 30, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany; (2) Faculty of Science, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; (3) Department of Animal Ecology, Philipps-University Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Strasse 8, 35032 Marburg, Germany

Keywords Termites; habitat degradation; rain forest; plant litter decomposition

Abstract Termites, the ‘soil engineers’ in tropical ecosystems, mediate breakdown processes of plant litter and regulate nutrient recycling and energy flow in the soil thus increasing plant growth. Our BIOTA East E16 project focuses on the Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya, which is the most eastern rain forest remnant of the Congo-Guinean Forest. This forest is heavily affected by increasing human-induced disturbances. Fieldwork is in progress across five types of human land-use: primary forest, disturbed forest, secondary forest, grasslands, and farmlands. Our ongoing project aims to assess along the land-use gradient: termite diversity, decomposition of paper baits, and leaf-litter breakdown.
We collected termites of 10 genera. Termite identification is typically based on soldier morphology. However, 63% of the samples had no soldiers. Thus bar-coding (mtDNA) is in progress for a deeper level of genus and species identification. Overall termite activity increases with the degree of land-use. In the three forest types, the frequency of soil-feeding termites dominates over plant-feeding termites. Overall leaf-litter decomposition rates are highest in the primary forest. In contrast, breakdown of toilet paper baits is low in primary forest due to a low abundance of fungus-growing termites and increases with the degree of forest degradation.

Congress Topic Land use, impact and value

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