Nutrient cycling by the subterranean termite <i>Gnathamitermes tubiformans</i> in Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem

TitleNutrient cycling by the subterranean termite Gnathamitermes tubiformans in Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1981
AuthorsSchaefer D, Whitford WG
Date Published1981
Call Number00285
Keywordsarticle, articles, decomposition, termites, Gnathamitermes,nutrient cycling, journal, journals, nutrient cycling, nitrogen, nutrient cycling, phosphorus, nutrient cycling, sulfur, nutrient cycling,termite, termite,nutrient cycling

We estimated the density of subterranean termites Gnathamitermes tubiformans at 800,000 ha-1 for a standing crop biomass of 2 kg ha-1. Predation losses were estimated to be 5.73 kg ha-1 yr-1 representing the major release of nutrients from termites to surficial soil layers. Nutrient fluxes from termites to predators amounted to 410 g N ha-1 yr-1, 33 g S ha-1 yr-1 and 19 g P ha-1 yr-1. These fluxes account for 8% of the litter N, 1.5% of the litter P and 2.9% of the litter S. The termites fixed an estimated 66 g ha-1 yr-1 atmospheric N and returned an estimated 100 g ha-1 yr-1 in the surface gallery carton. Since losses of elements from subterranean termites were greater than standing crops, we estimated an annual turnover of N at 3.5 times per year, P of 2.5 times per year, and S of 2.5 per times per year. Since surface foraging, predation and alate flights are pulse regulated by rainfall, nutrient flows through subterranean termites are episodic and releases of nutrients accumulated in termite biomass preceeds or is coincident with productivity "pulses" of some shallow rooted plants. We propose that subterranean termites are important as regulators in desert nutrient cycles.