Functional diversity of termites across the tropics: linking pattern and process

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Paul Eggleton

Life Sciences Department, NHM

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Secondary Supervisor:

Seirian Sumner

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Project Description:

Termites are the most important decomposer invertebrates, but the exact nature of their ecological impacts are poorly understood. This project will examine the functional diversity of termites across the tropics and relate that to large scale ecosystem processes. It will form part of a global termite diversity programme, working particularly in Africa and Australia, involving a network of more than a dozen institutions and a core team of some 20 researchers.

The project will collate, expand and analyse two datasets – (1) a well-established global diversity data set, consisting of standardised samples comprising >300 transects from across all parts of the tropics, and covering a range of management regimes, and (2) growing information about the effects of termites on decomposition, nutrient cycling and soil properties.

The student will explore the relationship between termite diversity and key ecosystem processes by: (a) backfilling field and experimental work where there are data gaps, particularly by connecting with ongoing projects in Africa and Australia; (b) geospatial and phylogeographic analysis of diversity data and (c) by the investigation of the relationship between the uncovered diversity patterns and ecosystem processes, specifically in a biogeographical context. We are just beginning to appreciate the global importance of termite-mediated ecological processes and so this will be a great opportunity to contribute to an active research area of considerable ecological importance.

Policy Impact of Research:

Termites are vital for tropical ecosystems, but forest modification and biogeography strong affect their diversity.

This project will disentangle these two factors and relate them to changes in ecosystem processes, giving a vital perspective on the role of termites in ecosystems.

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