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Termite trait data from: Continental-scale shifts in termite diversity and nesting and feeding strategies

Cite this dataset

Wijas, Baptiste; Lim, Shevaun; Cornwell, William (2021). Termite trait data from: Continental-scale shifts in termite diversity and nesting and feeding strategies [Dataset]. Dryad.


Typically, termites are treated as a single guild, which ignores important internal diversity, including diverse feeding and nesting traits. These termite traits are crucial for both ecosystem-level fluxes and trophic webs, with implications for vertebrate species. Despite their ecological importance, the large-scale distribution of termite feeding and nesting traits and the relationship with termite diversity is largely unknown. We investigated whether functional diversity, species richness, and feeding (wood, litter, grass, dung) and nesting trait (aboveground mound, belowground nest, inside tree or outside tree nest) distributions of termites were climatically control. To address this gap, we assembled a continental-scale database of termite traits and occurrence in Australia and modelled termite nesting and feeding traits in response to macroclimate. Functional richness and evenness increased primarily with temperature. Australia showed multiple hotspots of termite diversity with each hotspot showing a distinct guild composition. The large-scale distribution of nesting traits showed that aboveground nesting species were the most common nesting guild in the dry and wet tropics while belowground nesting dominated in seasonally cold arid environments, demonstrating a strong climatic control on nesting strategy. Given their large biomass and many interactions with other species, the macro-ecology of termite traits may be especially important in predicting shifts in other species’ distributions at continental and global scales.


A literature search was performed on each of the 258 termite species named in the geographic dataset. The results of each search were parsed for functional trait information. This resulted in nesting and/or feeding trait data for 182 termite species. The nesting traits include nest type: aboveground mound, belowground, inside tree, arboreal outside tree and in another termite species’ nest. Feeding guild categories were based on Donovan, et al. (2001) excluding fungus-growers which are absent in Australia and soil feeders which are almost non-existent. These data primarily, but not entirely, came from the original taxonomic descriptions of the species as for many species there has been little or no subsequent scientific investigation.

Usage notes

The additional climate, soil and primary productivity layers of Autsralia can be found through URLs added in the R script. For the termite trait database, all the termite species in Australia have been included but NAs have been added for the trait data of species we couldn't confirm. No termite species are listed as vulnerable or endangered in the geographic database and their locations are also freely availbale from the Atlas of Living Australia.