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Journal Articles Soil Biology and Biochemistry Year : 2022

Termite graveyards. Hidden geochemical patches?


Entombment, or the production of graveyards for the disposal of dead bodies, is not only a practice of human societies but is also observed in nature, including among small invertebrates such as termites. While the influence of termites on soil dynamics has largely been studied in comparing the specific properties of their mounds and protective sheeting with those of the surrounding soil, the properties of their graveyards have never been described before. Using incipient colonies of Macrotermes natalensis reared in a controlled environment, we showed that graveyard sheeting was characterized by a much higher C content in comparison with the reference soil and protective sheeting (4.7-fold increase). As a consequence, a slight increase in the C:N ratio was measured from 8 in the reference soil to 10 in graveyard sheeting. No changes in soil particle size fractions were measured. However, lower Fe and Al contents were measured in sheeting, and micrographs obtained from scanning electron microscopy revealed the presence of calcium carbonate, or calcium oxalate crystals, in sheeting, as well as the presence of organic substances and salt crystals covering termite corpses, most likely for controlling the spread of pathogens. The presence of calcium carbonates and/or calcium oxalate was explained by the very high Ca content within termite bodies. Therefore, this study shows that termite graveyards are likely to constitute unexplored patches of nutrients in soil.

Dates and versions

hal-03701957 , version 1 (22-06-2022)



Pascal Jouquet, Angélique Bultelle, Irina Djouraev, Sandrine Caquineau, Vincent Hervé, et al.. Termite graveyards. Hidden geochemical patches?. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 2022, 170, pp.108678. ⟨10.1016/j.soilbio.2022.108678⟩. ⟨hal-03701957⟩
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