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Effects of Erosion from Mounds of Different Termite Genera on Distinct Functional Grassland Types in an African Savannah

Gosling, Cleo M., Cromsigt, Joris P. G. M., Mpanza, Nokukhanya, Olff, Han
Ecosystems 2012 v.15 no.1 pp. 128-139
Digitaria, Macrotermes, Odontotermes, Sporobolus, Trinervitermes, biomass, field experimentation, grasses, grasslands, greenhouse experimentation, lawns and turf, nutrient availability, nutrient content, savannas, soil, soil erosion, termite mounds
A key aspect of savannah vegetation heterogeneity is mosaics formed by two functional grassland types, bunch grasslands, and grazing lawns. We investigated the role of termites, important ecosystem engineers, in creating high-nutrient patches in the form of grazing lawns. Some of the ways termites can contribute to grazing lawn development is through erosion of soil from aboveground mounds to the surrounding soil surface. This may alter the nutrient status of the surrounding soils. We hypothesize that the importance of this erosion varies with termite genera, depending on feeding strategy and mound type. To test this, we simulated erosion by applying mound soil from three termite genera (Macrotermes, Odontotermes, and Trinervitermes) in both a field experiment and a greenhouse experiment. In the greenhouse experiment, we found soils with the highest macro nutrient levels (formed by Trinervitermes) promoted the quality and biomass of both a lawn (Digitaria longiflora) and a bunch (Sporobolus pyramidalis) grass species. In the field we found that soils with the highest micro nutrient levels (formed by Macrotermes) showed the largest increase in cover of grazing lawn species. By linking the different nutrient availability of the mounds to the development of different grassland states, we conclude that the presence of termite mounds influences grassland mosaics, but that the type of mound plays a crucial role in determining the nature of the effects.