From Watts Up With That?
Essay by Eric Worrall
Termites were well managed by our ancestors, but in the wake of banning powerful insecticides like DDT, they are now apparently a climate problem.
Hungry and on the march as the climate heats up: Termites in Australia
By Frances Vinall
January 1, 2023 at 2:00 a.m. EST
TENNANT CREEK, Australia — In a forgotten restaurant behind a gas station in this country’s red center, only metal and plastic parts remain unscathed. Chris Cook grabs at a timber door frame, which crumples like paper in his hand.
“This has all just collapsed,” says Cook, a manager at Territory Pest Control in Australia’s Northern Territory. He eyes boards hanging in ragged pieces from the ceiling. Since he last visited the abandoned building three years ago, thousands of uninvited guests have been busy.
The destruction at Galaxy Auditorium restaurant at Wycliffe Well — a tiny highway stop calling itself the “UFO capital of Australia” — is the destruction that could lie ahead for many places on the continent unless Mastotermes darwiniensis can be stopped.
These termites are the last survivors of an ancestral species that shared space with dinosaurs 150 million years ago. They’re voracious and relentless. And because of climate change, they, like their fellow kin, are expanding their range.
The article also cites a 98 author study which suggests termites become more active in warm weather;
Termite sensitivity to temperature affects global wood decay rates
AMY E. ZANNE, HABACUC FLORES-MORENO, JEFF R. POWELL, WILLIAM K. CORNWELL, JAMES W. DALLING, AMY T. AUSTIN, AIMÉE T. CLASSEN, PAUL EGGLETON, KEI-ICHI OKADA, CATHERINE L. PARR, E. CAROL ADAIR, STEPHEN ADU-BREDU, MD AZHARUL ALAM, CAROLINA ALVAREZ-GARZÓN, DEBORAH APGAUA, ROXANA ARAGÓN, MARCELO ARDON, STEFAN K. ARNDT, LOUISE A. ASHTON, NICHOLAS A. BARBER, JACQUES BEAUCHÊNE, MATTY P. BERG, JASON BERINGER, MATTHIAS M. BOER, JOSÉ ANTONIO BONET, KATHERINE BUNNEY, TYNAN J. BURKHARDT, DULCINÉIA CARVALHO, DENNIS CASTILLO-FIGUEROA, LUCAS A. CERNUSAK, ALEXANDER W. CHEESMAN, TAINÁ M. CIRNE-SILVA, JAMIE R. CLEVERLY, JOHANNES H. C. CORNELISSEN, TIMOTHY J. CURRAN, ANDRÉ M. D’ANGIOLI, CAROLINE DALLSTREAM, NICO EISENHAUER, FIDELE EVOUNA ONDO, ALEX FAJARDO, ROMINA D. FERNANDEZ, ASTRID FERRER, MARCO A. L. FONTES, MARK L. GALATOWITSCH, GRIZELLE GONZÁLEZ, FELIX GOTTSCHALL, PETER R. GRACE, ELENA GRANDA, HANNAH M. GRIFFITHS, MARIANA GUERRA LARA, MOTOHIRO HASEGAWA, MARIET M. HEFTING, NINA HINKO-NAJERA, LINDSAY B. HUTLEY, JENNIFER JONES, ANJA KAHL, MIRKO KARAN, JOOST A. KEUSKAMP, TIM LARDNER, MICHAEL LIDDELL, CRAIG MACFARLANE, CATE MACINNIS-NG, RAVI F. MARIANO, M. SOLEDAD MÉNDEZ, WAYNE S. MEYER, AKIRA S. MORI, ALOYSIO S. MOURA, MATTHEW NORTHWOOD, ROMÀ OGAYA, RAFAEL S. OLIVEIRA, ALBERTO ORGIAZZI, JULIANA PARDO, GUILLE PEGUERO, JOSEP PENUELAS, LUIS I. PEREZ, JUAN M. POSADA, CECILIA M. PRADA, TOMÁŠ PŘÍVĚTIVÝ, SUZANNE M. PROBER, JONATHAN PRUNIER, GABRIEL W. QUANSAH, VÍCTOR RESCO DE DIOS, RONNY RICHTER, MARK P. ROBERTSON, LUCAS F. ROCHA, MEGAN A. RÚA, CAROLINA SARMIENTO, RICHARD P. SILBERSTEIN, MATEUS C. SILVA, FLÁVIA FREIRE SIQUEIRA, MATTHEW GLENN STILLWAGON, JACQUI STOL, MELANIE K. TAYLOR, FRANÇOIS P. TESTE, DAVID Y. P. TNG, DAVID TUCKER, MANFRED TÜRKE, MICHAEL D. ULYSHEN, OSCAR J. VALVERDE-BARRANTES, EDUARDO VAN DEN BERG, RICHARD S. P. VAN LOGTESTIJN, G. F. (CISKA) VEEN, JASON G. VOGEL, TIMOTHY J. WARDLAW, GEORG WIEHL, CHRISTIAN WIRTH, MICHAELA J. WOODS, AND PAUL-CAMILO ZALAMEA
Deadwood is a large global carbon store with its store size partially determined by biotic decay. Microbial wood decay rates are known to respond to changing temperature and precipitation. Termites are also important decomposers in the tropics but are less well studied. An understanding of their climate sensitivities is needed to estimate climate change effects on wood carbon pools. Using data from 133 sites spanning six continents, we found that termite wood discovery and consumption were highly sensitive to temperature (with decay increasing >6.8 times per 10°C increase in temperature)—even more so than microbes. Termite decay effects were greatest in tropical seasonal forests, tropical savannas, and subtropical deserts. With tropicalization (i.e., warming shifts to tropical climates), termite wood decay will likely increase as termites access more of Earth’s surface.Read more: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abo3856
Strangely our ancestors managed to build long lived wooden structures which weren’t instantly destroyed by termites.
What did our ancestors do differently?
I think you can guess from the image at the top of the page.
Termites can and are controlled by regular building inspections and five year applications of short term poisons. But if you want long term protection, there is no substitute for injecting DDT into the structural beams, and spraying the entire building with DDT.
It is not just termites. Where I live, there’s a nasty variety of sand fly, biting insects which live in the soil, especially loose sandy soil near beaches. But sand flies only seem to be a problem in some areas – mostly new developments which were built after DDT spraying was stopped. Old established areas of town, where massive public spraying with DDT was a regular event until the 1972, don’t seem to have a similar level of difficulty with sand flies.
Today Australians put up with mosquitos, horse flies, ticks, termites and sand flies, insects which simply weren’t a problem for our ancestors, who weren’t afraid to use powerful chemicals to make the places where they live comfortable and free from insect pests.