Termites are social insects that feed exclusively on plant material. They occur in vast numbers in tropical regions, where they are probably the most important animals contributing to decomposition processes.
1. A foraging column of Hospitalitermes returning to its nest with balls of lichens and mosses. These termites are common in the rainforests of Borneo.
Many termite species are voracious consumers of wood, and some of these are highly destructive pests of wooden buildings and furniture, plantation trees and crops. However, most termite species are innocent inhabitants of tropical forests, and have a positive effect on soil fertility. They and their nests also provide food and shelter for an extraordinary number of associated organisms.
2. Mounds of Cubitermes glebae stand about 1 metre tall and are found in the forests of west Africa.
Despite their importance, little is known about the evolution, diversity and general natural history of termites, or how this influences their role in ecosystems. The Natural History Museum holds the largest termite collection in the world, and therefore scientists in the Termite Research Group are uniquely placed to explore these issues. Current studies focus on:
3. A large, egg-laying queen of Dicuspiditermes, Borneo. The queen is at the heart of termite society.
The most extensive projects are being undertaken in Cameroon and Malaysia, where Museum and local scientists are investigating the effect of human disturbance on termite abundance, biomass and diversity, and linking this to the potential contribution of termites to global emissions of the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane.
Dr Paul Eggleton
Head of the Termite Research Group
The Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD UK
Tel: +44 (0)207 938 9459 Fax: +44 (0)207 938 8937
Last updated 31-Jan-2003