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The significance of termites as decomposers in contrasting grassland communities of semi-arid eastern Australia
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Decomposition of various litter forms including dead tussocks of two native perennial grasses, woollybutt (Eragrostis eriopoda) and mulga mitchell (Thyridolepis mitchelliana), as well as roots of woollybutt, dung of sheep and kangaroo, and bleached toilet rolls, was studied in contrasting grazing exclosures, half of which had termites excluded by biocide (termiticide) treatment. Dead mulga mitchell tussocks decayed more rapidly than woollybutt tussocks during the first 17 months post mortem. Thereafter, rate of decay differed little between species. After 3 years, only small amounts of tussock residues of either species remained and only then did the impact of biocide treatment become significant. Decomposition of kangaroo pellets was typically bimodal with significantly higher decomposition recorded in the controls (no biocide) up to 40 months after treatment, and many intact pellets remaining in the biocide-treated plots. While decomposition of sheep pellets showed similar bimodality, decomposition remained significantly lower in the biocide treatments for the entire duration of the experiment. Results suggest that abiotic processes, including those induced by UV radiation, may be dominant influences mediating decomposition of litter in these semi-arid ecosystems, especially following high-rainfall seasons when abundant grass biomass has been generated providing a surfeit of potential forage for harvester termites.
New South Wales
Journal of arid environments 2009 Jan., v. 73, issue 1
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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