Sampling termite assemblages in tropical forests: testing a rapid biodiversity assessment protocol


David T. Jones (fax 0207 9425229; e-mail


1. Termites play a key role in decomposition processes in tropical ecosystems. Rapid assessment of local termite assemblages requires a standardized sampling protocol capable of producing an accurate picture of species composition. This paper evaluates the efficacy of a sampling protocol designed to assess termite species richness and functional diversity in tropical forests.

2. The protocol entails a 100 m long transect consisting of 20 sections (each 5 × 2 m). One hour of human sampling effort per section is used to search for and collect termites from dead wood, soil, termite nests and other microhabitats up to a height of 2 m above ground. The protocol was tested in three forest sites where the local termite fauna was already comprehensively documented. Two transects were run at Danum Valley (Sabah, Borneo), one at Pasoh Forest Reserve (Peninsular Malaysia) and one at Mbalmayo Forest Reserve (Cameroon).

3. At the three sites the transect samples contained 31–36% of the known local termite species pool. The taxonomic and functional group composition of the transect samples did not differ significantly from that of the known local fauna. The two transects run at Danum Valley gave very similar patterns, suggesting that the protocol produces consistent within-site results. After sampling 20 sections, pseudoturnover between the two Danum transects had declined to a relatively low level.

4. The transect method is effective because it utilizes collecting expertise within a protocol that standardizes sampling effort and area. The protocol provides a much more rapid and cost-effective method for studying termite assemblage structure than sampling regimes designed to estimate population abundances. It was demonstrated that one supervised training transect was sufficient to ensure the protocol was conducted with the required level of sampling efficiency.

5. The protocol offers a rapid tool for investigating spatial and temporal patterns of termite assemblage structure in tropical forest sites. Existing data also suggest that termites warrant further investigation as ecological indicators. Termite assemblage composition shows a strong response to habitat disturbance and may be indicative of quantitative changes in the decomposition process. The termite transect has potential as a useful addition to any suite of organisms recommended for monitoring functional processes in tropical forests.