Termite mounds mitigate half of termite methane emissions.

Research Highlight

Termite mounds mitigate methane

© Arthit Thi-Ngakhruea/EyeEm/Getty

© Arthit Thi-Ngakhruea/EyeEm/Getty

Methane-loving microbes in the walls of termite mounds keep emissions of the greenhouse gas in check.

Termites are the cows of the insect world, digesting plants and releasing methane with abandon. They are behind 1–3% of global emissions, but the precise quantity is debated, suggesting that methane processing within mounds is not well understood.

A team that included researchers from the University of Melbourne injected methane into termite mounds then sucked it out again to find that around half had been absorbed. Bacteria in the mound walls and soil beneath consume the methane and turn it into oxygen.

The team used a computed tomography scanner to look inside mounds without damaging them, revealing an internal structure that facilitates methane transport.

Measuring methane emissions from mounds could enable researchers to calculate how many termites are hidden within and gain insights into the ecology of these insects.

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  1. PNAS 115, 13306–13311 (2018). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1809790115
Institutions Share
The University of Melbourne (UniMelb), Australia 0.67
Charles Darwin University (CDU), Australia 0.33