Olivia F. Palin,Paul Eggleton,Yadvinder Malhi,Cécile A.J. Girardin,Angela Rozas-Dávila,Catherine L. Parr
Through their role as ‘ecosystem engineers’, termites provide a range of ecosystem services including decomposition, and carbon and nitrogen cycling. Although termite diversity levels differ between regions as a result of variation in regional species pool size, in general, termite diversity is thought to decline with elevation. This study (1) investigated how termite species density, abundance, functional group diversity and termite attack on dead wood vary with altitude along an Amazon–Andes altitudinal gradient in Peru; (2) identified likely environmental causes of this pattern; and (3) explored the implications of termite presence for ecosystem functioning (notably for decomposition). Termites were sampled with a standardized 100 × 2 m straight-belt transect at five undisturbed forest sites along a gradient 190 to 3025 m, as were environmental variables and termite and fungus attack on dead wood. Termite diversity was similar to that found at comparable sites in South America, and there was little turnover of assemblage composition with elevation suggesting that montane specialists are not present. Termite diversity declined with increased elevation, though the upper distribution limit for termites was at a lower elevation than anticipated. We suggest that key drivers of this elevation pattern are reduced temperature with altitude and mid-elevation peaks in soil water content. Also, attack on dead wood diminished with decreasing termite indirect absolute abundance, while the depth of the soil humic layer increased. We hypothesize that termite abundance is a major accelerant of decomposition rates (and associated mineralization) in Amazonian forests.
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