Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Comparison of Field Methods to Detect Termite Activity in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert

Authors
item Taylor, Hilda - UNIV OF TEXAS-EL PASO
item Mackay, W - UNIV OF TEXAS-EL PASO
item Herrick, Jeffrey
item Guerrero, R - UNIV OF TEXAS-EL PASO
item Whitford, Walter

Submitted to: Sociobiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 29, 1998
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Subterranean termites are ubiquitous inhabitants of many rangeland ecosystems throughout the world. They recycle nutrients from dead leaves, wood and animal dung. They also help to aerate the soil and improve infiltration with their burrows. We would like to be able to manage these valuable organisms to help improve degraded areas and maintain rangeland which is already in good condition. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to study, or even count, because they spend most of their lives below the soil surface. This study was designed to compare the efficiency and effectiveness of different methods which are used to census termites in rangelands. The results demonstrated that cattle dung attracted more termites than corrugated cardboard blocks, toilet paper rolls sheathed with aluminum foil, buried piles of fluffgrass or yucca stalks. They were also more efficient than hand-searching randomly-selected spots on the soils surface early in the morning. The hand-searching was somewhat more cost- effective due to the fact that no expendable materials are required. The results of this study will permit other scientists to study these important organisms more efficiently and cost-effectively. It may also lead to the development of more reliable biological indicators of rangeland health.

Technical Abstract: The subterranean termites, Gnathamitermes tubiformans (Buckley) and Amitermes wheeleri (Desneux), play an essential role in terrestrial ecosystems of the northern Chihuahuan Desert. They regulate nutrient turnover, contribute to patterns of nutrient concentration, and determine the diversity and heterogeneity of desert plant communities. Therefore, they are considered keystone species in northern Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems. Our objectives were to compare the efficiency and cost effectiveness of six field procedures to detect termite activity. Efficiency was defined as the relative ability to attract termites during a given period of time. Cost effectiveness was based on the number of hours involved in preparing, handling and processing the samples. The methods included artificial baits, natural baits, and litter sweeps. The specific baits were: uncoated corrugated cardboard blocks, unscented generic rolls of toilet paper, cattle dung, fluff grass (Dasyochloa pulchella), and soap tree yucca (Yucca elata) stalks. In addition, termites were collected with litter sweeps. Results show that cattle dung is the most efficient in detecting termite activity, and litter sweeps the most cost effective, although also least efficient. The results of this study will benefit future termite studies on consumption rates, and relative population densities.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page