Successional response of a tropical forest termite assemblage to experimental habitat perturbation

Authors

  • Richard G. Davies,

    1. Termite Research Group, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK;
    2. Department of Biology, University College London, Wolfson House, 4 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HE, UK;
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  • Paul Eggleton,

    1. Department of Biology, University College London, Wolfson House, 4 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HE, UK;
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  • Luc Dibog,

    1. Termite Research Group, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK;
    2. NERC Centre for Population Biology, Department of Biology, Imperial College at Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks SL5 7PY, UK;
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  • John H. Lawton,

    1. NERC Centre for Population Biology, Department of Biology, Imperial College at Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks SL5 7PY, UK;
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  • David E. Bignell,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, London E1 4NS, UK;
    2. Tropical Biology and Conservation Unit, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kampus Jalan Tuaran, 88999 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia;
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  • Alain Brauman,

    1. Laboratoire de Microbiologie des Sols, ORSTOM-ISRA. BP 1386, Dakar, Senegal;
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  • Christian Hartmann,

    1. ORSTOM-BP 8006, 97259 Fort-de-France, France;
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  • Lina Nunes,

    1. Nucleo de Madeiras Laboratorio Nacional de Engenharia Civil, Avenida do Brasil 101 1799 Lisboa Codex, Portugal;
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  • John Holt,

    1. Division of Soils, CSIRO, Davies Laboratory, PMB PO Aitkenvale, Queensland 4814, Australia; and
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  • Corinne Rouland

    1. Laboratoire d’Écophysiologie des Invertébrés, Université de Créteil, Avenue Général de Gaulle, F-94010 Créteil Cedex, France
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Richard G. Davies, Termite Research Group, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK (fax 0207 9425229; e-mail ricd@nhm.ac.uk).

Summary

1. Research into the successional responses of tropical forest communities following disturbance has potential applications for habitat restoration. Currently little is known of how these responses relate to the recovery of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Succession of assemblages of decomposer arthropods is essential for the recovery of the soil community and nutrient cycling processes.

2. This study investigated the successional response of a termite assemblage to the experimental perturbation of forest habitat in southern Cameroon, examining the implications for tropical forest restoration. A randomized block design consisting of four experimental perturbations of differing severity was established in an old secondary forest in the Mbalmayo Forest Reserve. Isolated control sites were left in undisturbed forest. Recovery of the termite assemblage was assessed by measuring termite species richness and abundance at regular intervals over the subsequent 12 months.

3. The speed of recovery of the termite assemblage varied with the type and extent of perturbation. In treatments involving severe soil and canopy disturbance, termite species richness and abundance recovered more rapidly when dead wood was left on the ground following perturbation. The availability of dead wood also resulted in recolonization by a subset of the termite assemblage that was distinct compositionally from that sampled from all other treatments. This subset at sites with additional dead wood included not only certain wood-feeding species, but also soil feeders.

4. The positive effects upon the termite assemblage of leaving substantial dead wood on the ground has implications for the restoration of tropical forests following human-induced disturbances such as logging. The accelerated recovery of termite diversity and assemblage composition is a significant component of soil community recovery and the restoration of nutrient cycles. These benefits are expected to influence soil fertility and, ultimately, forest regeneration. The duration and persistence of these effects will depend crucially on the type, scale and intensity of the original disturbance. The impact of termites on soil properties, and vice versa, clearly deserves more attention in studies of tropical forest regeneration and recovery.

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