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Sustainable use of termite activity in agro-ecosystems with reference to earthworms. A review

  • Jouquet, Pascal
  • Chaudhary, E.
  • Kumar, A. R. V.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
Horizon / Pleins textes
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Sustainable agriculture and agro-ecology justify the need to study and understand the role played by ecological processes, and soil biodiversity in particular, in agro-ecosystem functioning. A large number of studies have focused on earthworms in temperate and humid tropical ecosystems and have demonstrated their importance for improving soil biological, physical, and chemical properties in agro-ecosystems. Their "success" is so essential that earthworms are widely considered key species and relevant indicators of soil health in temperate ecosystems. In arid and sub-arid ecosystems, the role of "soil engineer" is usually attributed to termites, and especially fungus-growing termites in Africa and Asia. However, despite this recognition, significant effort is spent eradicating them in plantations because of their pest status. In this review, we discuss the status of termites ("pests" vs. "soil engineers") and question whether termites play similar roles to earthworms in arid-and sub-arid agroecosystems, with a focus on their influence on nutrient cycling and water dynamics. We argue that the dream of controlling natural interactions and ridding plantations of termites remains a costly legacy of the green revolution. We review the agricultural practices that have been used to reduce termite damage in plantations by restoring refuges to predators or by reorienting termite foraging activity towards organic amendments. Then, we show that the stimulation of termite activity can be used to improve key ecological functions in agroecosystems, such as increasing water availability to plants or producing fertility hot-spots. Finally, we suggest that more research on how termites can be used for improving ecosystem services, as is actually done with earthworms in temperate and humid tropical countries, could lead to a paradigm shift in our understanding of the impact of termites in tropical agro-ecosytems.

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