Spatial patterns and life histories of Macrotermes michaelseni termite mounds reflect intraspecific competition: insights of a temporal comparison spanning 12 years

2022 | journal article. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Spatial patterns and life histories of Macrotermes michaelseni termite mounds reflect intraspecific competition: insights of a temporal comparison spanning 12 years​
Wildermuth, B.; Oldeland, J.; Arning, C.; Gunter, F.; Strohbach, B. & Juergens, N.​ (2022) 
Ecography2022(9).​ DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.06306 

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Authors
Wildermuth, Benjamin; Oldeland, Jens; Arning, Carsten; Gunter, Felicitas; Strohbach, Ben; Juergens, Norbert
Abstract
Termite mounds contribute to the heterogeneity and productivity of many semi‐arid ecosystems worldwide. Regular spatial patterns of termite mounds are well documented but the underlying pattern‐building mechanisms remain to be clarified. This study analysed a comprehensive data set of Macrotermes michaelseni mound metrics, spatial patterns and dynamics, recorded 12 years apart within 1 km2 of Namibian thornbush savanna. We used both unmarked and marked point pattern analyses to assess spatial distributions of termite mounds. We recorded 485 termite mounds in 2007 and 2019. Out of the investigated 142 active termite mounds in 2007, 81 were active 12 years later. Only 2% (n = 3/129) of remnant mound sites in 2007 were newly colonised in 2019. All mounds were distributed at regular distances. Mounds higher than 2 m and long‐term active mounds (active in 2007 and 2019) showed high regularity. Mounds up to 0.7 m height and new mounds occurred in clusters and showed a spatial repulsion to large and long‐term active colonies. The spatial distribution of Boscia albitrunca trees generally clustered around termite mounds, but did not cluster around young colonies. The results contradict the hypothesis of preferred colony settlement on previously inhabited mound sites. Remnant mounds are relatively unlikely to be recolonised when recently abandoned. The observed spatial patterns show that intraspecific competition between large colonies is the decisive factor for regular spatial patterns of termite colonies, whereas small and young colonies are limited to unoccupied patches. Surrounding trees are a pattern‐building factor of only secondary importance. The spatio‐temporal scale in our study reveals general trends of termite mound life histories and spatial pattern‐building mechanisms. Availability of not previously inhabited sites form the patterns of founding new colonies. Well‐established mounds are highly regulated by intraspecific competition. This highlights that termites contribute to ecosystem heterogeneity through self‐organised spatial regularity.
Issue Date
2022
Journal
Ecography 
Organization
Fakultät für Forstwissenschaften und Waldökologie ; Burckhardt-Institut ; Abteilung Waldnaturschutz 
ISSN
0906-7590
eISSN
1600-0587
Language
English

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