Eur. J. Entomol. 105 (2): 165-173, 2008 | 10.14411/eje.2008.025

The importance of termites (Isoptera) for the recycling of herbivore dung in tropical ecosystems: a review

Bernd P. FREYMANN1, Robert BUITENWERF1, Og DESOUZA2, Han OLFF1
1 Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, Community and Conservation Ecology Group, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands; e-mail: b.freymann@rug.nl
2 Departamento de Biologia Animal, Laboratório de Termitologia, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, 36570-000 Viçosa, MG, Brazil

While the key role of termites in the decomposition of litter in the tropics has been acknowledged for a long time, much less information exists on their importance in the recycling of dung of primary consumers, especially herbivores. A review of published studies shows that a diverse group of termites (at least 126 species) has been reported to feed on a wide range of mammalian dung (18 species). Predominantly, wood-feeding and polyphagous wood-litter feeding species were found to feed also frequently on dung. Moreover, we found that termites can quickly remove large amounts of mammalian dung, especially in the dry season, when on average about 1/3 of the dung deposited in a given habitat is removed by termites within one month (with the highest rates observed in savannas). No distinctive preference for mammalian dung over other organic food sources was observed for fungus-growing termites (Macrotermitinae), whereas the majority of the non-fungus growing taxa studied prefer dung over other food. As termites bring large quantities of dung below the soil surface, disturb and enrich soils with nutrients, dung feeding by termites appears to be a previously underestimated process important in the functioning of tropical ecosystems.

Keywords: Isoptera, comminution, decomposition, food preference, foraging, herbivores, mammalian dung, nutrient cycling, removal rates, termites

Received: May 22, 2007; Accepted: January 21, 2008; Published: May 15, 2008

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