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Dynamic feedbacks among tree functional traits, termite populations and deadwood turnover

Cite this dataset

Guo, Chao et al. (2021). Dynamic feedbacks among tree functional traits, termite populations and deadwood turnover [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Changes in the composition of plant functional traits may affect ecosystem processes through influencing trophic interactions. Bottom-up control by plant species through food availability to animals may vary with time. However, such dynamics and their consequences for deadwood turnover are poorly known for detrital food webs.

2. We introduce a dynamic conceptual model of the feedback of (deadwood-feeding) termite populations, tree functional traits and deadwood decomposition. We hypothesized that tree functional diversity (in terms of a wood resource economic spectrum, WES) supports the sustenance of termite populations via complementary food supplied through time, as deadwood varies in traits both initially between species and because of different decomposition rates. Simultaneously, the consumption of deadwood by termites was hypothesized to sustain deadwood turnover in a functionally diverse forest by the same temporal mechanism of changing wood quality of multiple species over time.

3. We tested our hypothesis through an 18-month termite-exclusion decomposition experiment by incubating coarse (i.e., 5 cm diameter) deadwood of 34 woody species in two subtropical forests in East China. One site still sustained a healthy population of pangolins as the keystone termite predator, while another had lost its pangolins due to hunting and illegal wildlife trade.

4. The results supported our hypothesis: in the first 12 months, termites amplified the positive linear relationship between % wood mass loss and initial wood quality (WES). In contrast, between 12 and 18 months, termite-mediated consumption, and associated wood mass loss, showed a humpback relation with the initial WES. This shift in termite preference of deadwood species along the WES indicated complementary food availability to termites through time.

5. Synthesis. Our findings imply that tree functional composition, through variation in deadwood quality through decomposition time, can help to sustain termite populations and thereby forest carbon turnover. Future studies need to test whether and how our conceptual model may apply to other detrital systems and food webs. In general, food web research would benefit from a stronger focus on temporal patterns for better understanding the interactions of basal resource functional traits and consumers on ecosystem functions.


The data was from field wood decmposition experiment, litter-bags were harvested after 6 months (July 2018), 12 months (Dec. 2018) and 18 months (July 2019).


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 32030068

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31770467