Submitted to: Sociobiology
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/2/2004
Publication Date: 12/1/2004
Citation: Su, N.Y., Smith, B.M., Puche, H., Bardunias, P. 2004. Characterization of tunneling geometry of subterranean termites (isoptera: rhinotermitidae) by computer simulation. Sociobiology. 44:471-483. Interpretive Summary: Subterranean termites of the genus Reticulitermes and Coptotermes are a serious threat to wood structures. These termites build a nest of numerous exploratory runways or tunnels as part of a systematic search for food. Understanding and quantifying the morphology of the tunneling system, as branching grows, is important to analyze the progress of the tunneling and to estimate the economic impact that tunnel construction has on dwellings. Tests were conducted using two-dimensional sand-filled arenas to quantify the morphology of the subterranean termite tunneling system. Because the arenas have a cluster of four access holes near the arena center, it is possible to release termites inside the arena and observe the tunneling behavior. Scientists from the University of Florida and the USDA Subtropical Horticulture Research Station (SHRS) used images of termite tunnels inside the arenas to create a computer simulation program to reconstruct termite tunnels. The analysis produced insights into the mechanisms used by termites for tunneling and tunnel maintenance. This discovery is essential to reduce costs in evaluating treatments used to control termite colonies.
Technical Abstract: Tunnel structure of two subterranean termite species, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki and Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), was reduced into basic components by a protocol for quantifying movement pathways. Component-wise comparisons showed that R. flavipes generated more primary tunnels that were closer together, less linear (i. e. shorter linear segments) with more branching, and turns at sharper turn angles than C. fomosanus. A computer simulation program incorporating the measured components was used to reconstruct termite tunnels and to identify other critical components for further incorporation into the simulation program. Ten components were identified as the minimum elements needed to reconstruct plausible termite tunnel structure. A fractal analysis indicated that the simulation program produced tunnels with a statistically similar complexity to those produced by termites. The simulation program also provided insights into termite tunnel structure, namely the truncation of tunnels intersecting other tunnels, and the tendency for tunnels to radiate away from the origin without looping back towards the origin.