Methane emission by termites and oxidation by soils, across a forest disturbance gradient in the Mbalmayo Forest Reserve, Cameroon



Methane fluxes were measured, using static chambers, across a disturbance gradient in a West African semi-deciduous humid forest. Soil-feeding termite biomass was simultaneously determined, in an attempt to examine its influence on the net soil-atmosphere exchange of CH4. CH4 emission rates from individual termite species were determined under laboratory conditions, permitting the gross production of CH4 to be compared with net fluxes to the atmosphere. Both net CH4 oxidation(-) and emission were observed, and CH4 fluxes ranged from – 24.6 to 40.7 ng m–2 s–1. A statistically significant relationship between termite biomass and CH4 flux was observed across the forested sites such that: CH4 flux (ng m–2 s–1) = 4.95 × termite biomass (gm–2)–10.9 (P < 0.001). Rates of CH4 oxidation were on average 60% smaller at the clearfelled and Terminalia plantation sites than at the near-primary forest site. Two of the disturbed sites were net CH4 sources during one of the sampling periods. Disturbance of tropical forests, resulting in a decrease in the CH4 sink capacity of the soil, may therefore increase the contribution of termite-derived CH4 to the atmosphere. Measurements from the mounds of the soil-feeding termites Thoracotermes macrothorax and Cubitermes fungifaber from the old plantation site gave a CH4 emission of 636 and 53.4 ng s–1 mound–1, respectively. The forest floor surrounding the mounds was sampled in three concentric bands. Around the mound of T. macrothorax the soil was a net source of CH4 estimated to contribute a further 148 ng s–1. Soil surrounding the mound of C. fungifaber was mostly a net sink. The mounds of soil-feeding termites are point sources of CH4, which at the landscape scale may exceed the general sink capacity of the soil, to an extent dependent on seasonal variations in soil moisture and level of disturbance.