The fate of carbon utilized by the subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes

  • Authors: Myer, Angela; Myer, Mark H.; Trettin, Carl; Forschler, Brian
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
  • Source: Ecosphere 12(12)


Subterranean termites are ecosystem engineers that modulate the flow of carbon from deadwood to the atmosphere and soil, yet their contributions to the latter pool are largely unaccounted forin carbon cycling models. The fate of C from wood utilized by Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar) was determinedusing a reductionist design in a closed system with δ13C labeled wood as a stable isotope tracer.The percentage of wood-based carbon in termite respiratory gases, tissues, and organic deposits (frassand construction materials) was measured for five colonies to budget wood-C mass distributed intometabolic and behavioral pathways during a 160-h incubation period. We found that termites emitted42% of the C from wood as gas (largely as carbon dioxide), returned 40% to the environment as organicdeposits (frass and construction materials), and retained 18% in their tissues (whole alimentary tractsand de-gutted bodies). Our findings affirm that termites are a source of greenhouse gases but are alsoecosystem engineers that return approximately half the C from dead wood as organic deposits into their surrounding environment.

  • Citation: Myer, A., M. H. Myer, C. C. Trettin, B. T. Forschler. 2021. The fate of carbon utilized by the subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes. Ecosphere 12(12):e03872. 10.1002/ecs2.3872
  • Keywords: carbon cycling, closed chamber, eastern subterranean termite, free-air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE), mass balance, methane, wood decomposition.
  • Posted Date: June 8, 2022
  • Modified Date: August 10, 2022
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