Considering The Lack Of Vegetation In Deserts, How Can Desert Termites Find Food?
Since termites are the most ancient of all living social insects, it makes sense that they evolved into several different species that can inhabit various types of ecosystems. Despite the evolutionary success of termites, it is difficult to imagine termites surviving in the desert. After all, termites eat cellulose found in wood and plant matter. Sources of sustenance are not easy to come by in a desert. However, there are plenty of different termite species that dwell in deserts. In the United States, the Sonoran desert is home to subterranean termites, dampwood termites, and drywood termites. It may be hard to believe, but if all native desert termites were removed from their habitat, then massive amounts of plant debris would litter vast desert landscapes. Without desert termites, deserts would look entirely different.
While it is true that desert environments are not conducive to most forms of vegetation, desert termites are well adapted to survive in arid conditions. Deserts are not completely free of vegetation. Grassy savannas can be found in tropical deserts, and even the most arid deserts contain patches of dead grass. Dead cactus skeletons provide another source of cellulose for desert dwelling termites. In the Sonoran desert termites can also consume Palo Verde wood, Mesquite wood and dung. Termites are particularly important to the Sonoran desert environment, as wood-eating fungi cannot grow as a result of this regions excessively arid climate. This makes termites the only hope for clearing the Sonoran desert of dead wood, cactus skeletons and other forms of vegetation.
If the Sonoran desert were to become littered with dead plant matter, then new plants would not be able to grow. This alone would be enough to kill nearly all animal species dwelling in desert ecosystems. The desert soil also needs nutrients in order to nourish plant life. These nutrients are all contained in dead plant matter, so the plant matter must be converted into usable nutrients. This is exactly what termites do for desert ecosystems. By consuming dead plant matter, termites are recycling unusable nutrients into usable nutrients for desert soil. To put it one way, without termites deserts would not exist as they do today.
Do you believe that desert ecosystems would collapse without native desert termites?