Seasonal activity patterns of African savanna termites vary across a rainfall gradient

14 Dec 2015

Seasonal variations in temperature and moisture are strong drivers of biological activity and diversity. Termites are an important insect group previously shown to respond to seasonal variation, but results are mixed with unclear patterns across habitat types. We investigated seasonal variation in termite species density, activity levels and assemblage composition across three seasons (wet, transitional and dry) and four savanna types across a rainfall gradient (450–900 mm year-1) in South Africa using cellulose baits. Termites responded to seasonality in all savannas investigated, with lower species density and activity levels during the dry season compared to the wet and transitional seasons. In the more arid sites (B550 mm rainfall per year) activity levels were highest in the wet season, while at wetter sites (C750 mm rainfall per year) the highest activity was recorded in the transitional season. Assemblage composition did not differ much between seasons across all sites, but differences in both composition and activity levels across seasons were more pronounced in wetter sites compared to drier ones. Our results demonstrate that seasonal patterns in termite diversity vary with mean annual rainfall, with larger variation in wetter habitats where climatic variation between seasons is greater.