Termites can play a major role in preventing desertification, as the termite mounds act as a natural barrier to the spread of deserts encroaching on less arid landscapes. In fact, regions like savannas that have termite mounds have been observed to flourish with much less rainfall compared to the similar regions not having any termite mounds nearby, according to the Princeton University researchers.
The scientists explained that semi-arid ecosystems in regions like Asia, Africa and South America benefit from termite species. Presence of these little species helps support these regions when it comes to halting spread of deserts.
Corina Tarnita, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, explained that the termite activity in the soil allows water to penetrate it better. This in turn allows plants near the mounds to flourish as if there was more rain than actual levels.
Tarnita further explained that such mounds also adept in aiding in the preservation seeds during dry periods. It is found that vegetation near termite mounds persist longer and decline slowly, and even if it disappears from the mounds it’s still easier for it to regrow.
Mounds can house moisture in its soil and act as a miniature oasis. They can also preserve nutrients for any vegetation that grows around it. In addition, the “labyrinthine tunnels” within the mound can also allow water to infiltrate easily through the surrounding soil.
Robert Pringle, a study co-author and a professor of evolutionary biology and ecology, noted that other species of mound-building animals may also serve to support the ecosystems they inhabit. Such species may include prairie dogs, ants and gophersm among others. However, it is difficult to estimate what each type of animal does to the local vegetation. This could be future research direction to study which species are building mounds and how these mounds might support local vegetation.