Role of ants and termites in improving soil water infiltration

TitleRole of ants and termites in improving soil water infiltration
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsHerrick JE, Whitford WG
Conference NameSociety for Range Management
Date Published1998
AbstractRangeland degradation is frequently associated with reduced water infiltration at both the microsite and landscape levels. Many soil invertebrates create macropores which can conduct water more quickly into the soil. The objective of this study was to determine whether the macropores created by termites and harvester ants significantly increase infiltration. A tension infiltrometer was used to quantify macropore contribution to soil water infiltration under natural and artificial baits with increased termite activity, and in and around harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex rugosus) nests on compacted soils. There was no treatment effect on infiltration rates into a sandy loam when water was applied at tensions which only filled pores smaller than those created by termites (approximate pore equivalent cylindrical diameter <250u; 25-43mm/hr; p>0.1). However, when the contribution of macropores attributable to termite activity was included (5mm tension; e.c.d.<6mm), the infiltration capacity in areas with enhanced termite activity increased two- to three-fold on the sandy loam (33 vs. 66-102mm/hr; p<0.01). Similar enhancements in infiltration capacity were recorded at the silty clay site, and on harvester ant mounds suggesting that soil-dwelling termites and ants may play a role similar to that of earthworms in more mesic systems.