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Termite diversity is resilient to land-use change

Citation

Quansah, Gabriel et al. (2022), Termite diversity is resilient to land-use change, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1g1jwsv00

Abstract

Cocoa is an important crop for Ghana’s economy, contributing 25% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The crop, however, is mainly cultivated on forest-derived soils and is a major cause of land-use change. Termites are an important biological component of tropical ecosystems providing numerous ecosystem services. Previous studies have indicated that termites are sensitive to forest disturbance and decrease in richness and abundance across land-use intensification gradients, with consequences for the essential services that they provide. Native shade trees are often used to improve cocoa cultivation and may reduce the detrimental effects of land-use change on some aspects of biodiversity. The aim of this study was therefore to explore how termites respond to land-use change along a shade-tree gradient in Kakum National Park and surrounding cocoa farms in Ghana (from forest at 80% tree cover to cocoa with no shade cover, to the extreme of cultivated arable crop land). It was predicted that termite richness and abundance would decrease with decreasing shade cover, and with increasing distance from the forest edge. Thirty-four species from 29 genera were sampled, with Ancistrotermes crucifer being found in all the locations (47% of all encounters). Species richness and abundance differed marginally across the land-use gradient, as well as the distance from the forest edge, however, species richness did not show any significance with distance. All the same, termite communities were robust to the disturbance. Our findings suggest that though site influenced species richness and abundance, cocoa trees can play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity and environmental quality in an agricultural landscape by providing a habitat for forest species that are not found in pastures or farm fields. However, we caution that the relatively low forest baseline of existing forest diversity may inflate the value of cocoa land, with those forests no longer representing undisturbed natural habitats: this highlights that shifting baselines may need to be accounted for when interpreting findings in the Anthropocene.

Methods

Termites were sampled along a single belt transect at each site using the standardized transect method as described by Jones and Eggleton (2000). Transects were 100 m long and 2 m wide, divided into 20 sections of 5 x 2 m each. Transects were geo-referenced, with GPS coordinates taken at the beginning and the end of each transect. One person-hour of sampling effort per section was used to search for and collect termites from the soil (12 pits of approximately 12 cm x 12 cm x 10 cm (depth) were dug per section), accumulations of litter and humus at the base of trees, the inside of dead wood, tree stumps, soil within and beneath very rotten logs, subterranean nests, mounds, runways on vegetation and arboreal nests up to a height of 2 m above ground level. Termites were searched for within each transect section, and samples were collected for each encounter and placed in separate vials. When possible, termite samples for each encounter consisted of two to three soldiers and five to seven workers: in total, seven to ten individuals. Termites were placed in vials filled with 70 @ ethanol and labelled according to the section of the transect they were collected.

Usage Notes

N/A

Funding

Royal Society-DFID, Award: AQ150060