Date: 22.06.2020

Ant-termite interactions: an important but under-explored ecological linkage

The article in Biological Reviews highlights the importance of ants and termites for ecosystem processes and summarize the available literature about the interactions between these two insect groups. Predatory ants seems to be able to regulate termite populations and thus affect decomposition of plant-derived organic matter.

Figure description: Schematic outlining the role of ant predation of termites on the processes involved in soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition. Ants are likely to be important predators of termites. Hence, ants have the potential to restrict the decomposition of plant organic matter via predation on termites, and also via predation of other arthropod decomposers.

Animal interactions play an important role in understanding ecological processes. Because ants and termites, with their high biomass and range of ecological functions, have considerable effects on their environment, the interaction between them is important for ecosystem processes. Although the manner in which ants and termites interact is becoming increasingly well studied, there has been no synthesis to date of the available literature. Here we review and synthesise all existing literature on ant– termite interactions. We infer that ant predation on termites is the most important, most widespread, and most studied type of interaction. Predatory ant species can regulate termite populations and subsequently slow down the decomposition of wood, litter and soil organic matter. Although some ant species are specialised termite predators, there is probably a high level of opportunistic predation by generalist ant species, and hence their impact on ecosystem processes that termites are known to provide varies at the species level. The most fruitful future research direction will be to evaluate the impact of ant–termite predation on broader ecosystem processes. To do this it will be necessary to quantify the efficacy both of particular ant species and of ant communities as a whole in regulating termite populations in different biomes. We envisage that this work will require a combination of methods, including DNA barcoding of ant gut contents along with field observations and exclusion experiments. Such a combined approach is necessary for assessing how this interaction influences entire ecosystems.

Tuma, J., Eggleton, P. & Fayle, T.M. (2020) Ant-termite interactions: an important but under-explored ecological linkage. Biological Reviews 95(10): 555-572.

DOI: 10.1111/brv.12577

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