In praise of unwanted termites

first_imgThe majestic animals most closely associated with the African savanna — fierce lions, massive elephants, towering giraffes — may be relatively minor players when it comes to shaping the ecosystem.The real king of the savanna appears to be the tiny termite, say ecologists who’ve found that these humble creatures contribute mightily to grassland productivity in central Kenya through a network of uniformly distributed colonies. Termite mounds greatly enhance plant and animal activity at the local level, while their even distribution over a larger area maximizes ecosystem-wide productivity.The finding, published May 25 in the journal PLoS Biology, affirms a counterintuitive approach to population ecology: Often it’s the small things that matter most.“It’s not always the charismatic predators — animals like lions and leopards — that exert the greatest control on populations,” said Robert M. Pringle, a research fellow at Harvard University. “As E.O. Wilson [esteemed biologist and emeritus Harvard professor] likes to point out, in many respects it’s the little things that run the world. In the case of the savanna, it appears these termites have tremendous influence and are central to the functioning of this ecosystem.”Earlier research on the Kenya dwarf gecko initially drew Pringle’s attention to the peculiar role of grassy termite mounds, which in that part of Kenya are 10 meters in diameter and spaced 60 to 100 meters apart. Each mound teems with millions of termites, which build the mounds over the course of centuries.After observing unexpectedly high numbers of lizards in the vicinity of mounds, Pringle and his colleagues began to quantify ecological productivity relative to mound density. They found that each mound supported dense aggregations of flora and fauna. Plants grew more rapidly the closer they were to mounds, and animal populations and reproductive rates fell off appreciably with greater distance.What was observed on the ground was even clearer in satellite imagery. Each mound — relatively inconspicuous on the Kenyan grassland — stood at the center of a burst of floral productivity. More importantly, these bursts were highly organized in relation to one another, evenly dispersed as if squares on a checkerboard. The result, said Pringle, is an optimized network of plant and animal output closely tied to the ordered distribution of termite mounds.“In essence, the highly regular spatial pattern of fertile mounds generated by termites actually increases overall levels of ecosystem production. And it does so in such a profound way,” said Todd M. Palmer, assistant professor of biology at the University of Florida and an affiliate of the Mpala Research Centre in Nanyuki, Kenya. “Seen from above, the grid-work of termite mounds in the savanna is not just a pretty picture. The overdispersion, or regular distribution of these termite mounds, plays an important role in elevating the services this ecosystem provides.”The mechanism through which termite activity is transformed into far-reaching effects on the ecosystem is a complex one. Pringle and Palmer suspect that termites import coarse particles into the otherwise fine soil in the vicinity of their mounds. These coarser particles promote water infiltration of the soil, even as they discourage disruptive shrinking and swelling of topsoil in response to precipitation or drought.The mounds also show elevated levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. All this beneficial soil alteration appears to mold ecosystem services far beyond the immediate vicinity of the mound.While further studies will explore the mechanism through which these spatial patterns of termite mounds emerge, Pringle and Palmer suggest that the present work has implications beyond the basic questions of ecology.“Termites are typically viewed as pests, and as threats to agricultural and livestock production,” Pringle said. “But productivity — of both wild and human-dominated landscapes — may be more intricately tied to the pattern-generating organisms of the larger natural landscape than is commonly understood.”The findings also have important implications for conservation, Palmer says.“As we think about restoring degraded ecosystems, as we think about restoring coral reefs, or restoring plant communities, this overdispersed pattern is teaching us something,” he said. “It’s saying we might want to think about doing our coral restoration or plant restoration in a way that takes advantage of this ecosystem-productivity-enhancing phenomenon.”Pringle and Palmer’s co-authors on the PLoS Biology paper are Daniel F. Doak of the Mpala Research Centre and the University of Wyoming; Alison K. Brody of the Mpala Research Centre and the University of Vermont; and Rudy Jocqué of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. Their work was supported by the Sherwood Family Foundation and the National Science Foundation.last_img read more

Carroll dreaming of Euro 2016 spot

first_img The Northern Ireland goalkeeper, 37, has been a key figure in his side’s perfect start to Euro 2016 qualifying, conceding just one goal to date in three successive victories. Friday night’s clash in Romania offers the chance to extend the country’s best ever start to a campaign and hopes are high that a first appearance on the big stage since the 1986 World Cup could become a reality. Press Association And for Carroll, who played with one of the greatest players never to grace the finals of an international competition, that represents a huge incentive. “To qualify for a major tournament would be a dream come true for me,” said the Notts County stopper. “I look at the likes of Ryan Giggs, who was one of the best players in the world and never played in a major tournament. “It would be nice when I retire and I look back on my career in 20 or 30 years time to reflect on playing at the Euro finals. “It would be great to say I played in a major tournament. That’s every footballer’s dream. “I don’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s fair to say it’s a big motivation for me. I’d love to reach the finals with Northern Ireland. The only way you can achieve that is to continue picking up points in the group. That’s our aim on Friday night. Take points in every game and you’re a little bit closer.” Carroll is enjoying every moment of his Northern Ireland career now, having previously slipped into exile due to personal problems and previous manager Nigel Worthington’s indifference towards him. Roy Carroll admits it would be a dream to go one better than former Manchester United team-mate Ryan Giggs by appearing in a major international tournament. An ideal scenario could now see him celebrate a half-century of caps at France 2016, but he is not doing those sums just yet. “I haven’t allowed myself to dream that I’d win my 50th cap in France,” he said. “Three or four years ago I never thought I’d be back playing for Northern Ireland. That’s how desperate things were for me outside football,” he said. “For me to be back just playing for Northern Ireland is fantastic. Michael O’Neill and the coaching staff gave me great belief to come back into the squad and I’m loving it. “They have shown great belief in me and I want to give them 100 per cent back. The supporters too. They travel all over the world to support us and I want to give them 100 per cent.” last_img read more

Rates for Black ‘FAREWELL MATCH’ released

first_imgPrimeval Media, organizers of the Black Stars Farewell Match have released the rates for the match.The Farewell Match which is the first of its kind in Ghana, is being organized in collaboration with the Ghana Football Association for the players of the Black Stars to say a big thank you to Ghanaian soccer fans for their unflinching support throughout their World Cup qualifiers will take place at the Accra Sports Stadium on May 23, 2014 at 5:00pm.The rates include:GH¢ 5:00-Popular StandGH¢ 10:00- Osu StandGH¢ 15:00-VIP Lower GH¢ 20:00-VIP UpperGH¢ 30:00-VVIPThe tickets will go on sale at the following outlets from Monday 19th May 2014:All uniBank Branches across AccraAirport Shell Batsona TotalAccra Mall (uniBank)Peace FMJoy FMOsu Mall (uniBank)last_img read more