Spatial and temporal hotspots of termite-driven decomposition in the Serengeti


  • Bernd P. Freymann,

  • Sara N. De Visser,

  • Han Olff

B. P. Freymann (, S. N. de Visser and H. Olff, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, Community and Conservation Ecology Group, Univ. of Groningen, PO Box 14, NL-9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands.


Ecosystem engineers are organisms that directly or indirectly control the availability of resources to other organisms by causing physical state changes in biotic or abiotic materials. Termites (Insecta, Isoptera) are among the most important ecosystem engineers in tropical ecosystems. We used a field experiment in the tall grasslands of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, to investigate 1) the consumption by termites of grass litter and dung baits along the landscape gradient of catena position, and 2) seasonal variation in litter and dung removal. Our maps of termitaria and patterns of bait removal revealed clear spatial and temporal hotspots of termite activity. In the dry season termites removed more baits at the top-catena positions than at the bottom positions, but there was no effect of catena position in the wet season. Spatial hotspots of termite activity overlapped with those of both mammalian herbivores and predators. Within the framework of ecosystem engineering, this study suggests that intraspecific aspects of spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability deserve much greater consideration.