Accurately measuring carbon fluxes in tropical forests is important due to their role in understanding and mitigating climate change. However, gaps remain in our understanding of factors affecting wood decomposition, an important component of the carbon. Termites which are a functionally dominant force in tropical forests play a direct role in wood decomposition as well as an interactive role with the microbial and fungal communities which drive wood decay. These factors have never been assessed in the Western Amazon region which means an important driver of the global carbon cycle is yet to be fully understood. This project will address this gap.
The forest composition of Western Amazonia is driven by fluvial dynamics, with a difference of 10 metres in height between high water season and low water season. This phenomenon influences the spatial and temporal distribution of termites and hence wood decay processes, leading to seasonal changes in the carbon cycle of the region.
Repeated extreme floods and severe droughts have increased in frequency over recent decades. Termites, which are estimated to account for 10–20% of wood decomposition, show behavioural and demographic responses to changes in abiotic conditions. It has been shown in other regions that shifts in moisture availability alter the functional role of termites in wood decay and hence carbon cycling (Figure 1). Therefore understanding how these projected changes in fluvial dynamics in Western Amazonia will impact termites and wood decay processes will increase accuracy of future global carbon cycling models.
This study will use on the ground exclusion experiments and carbon flux monitoring to assess the role of termites in wood decay spatially and temporally over the flooded forest annual cycle. This will then be matched with remotely sensed data of the extent of flooded forest in order to model how termite driven contribution to wood decay and the carbon cycle will change under predicted climate change scenarios.
Bodmer, R., Mayor, P., Antunez, M., Chota, K., Fang, T., Puertas, P., Pittet, M., Kirkland, M., Walkey, M., Rios, C. and Perez‐Peña, P., 2018. Major shifts in Amazon wildlife populations from recent intensification of floods and drought. Conservation Biology, 32(2), pp.333-344.
Cheesman, A.W., Cernusak, L.A. and Zanne, A.E., 2018. Relative roles of termites and saprotrophic microbes as drivers of wood decay: A wood block test. Austral Ecology, 43(3), pp.257-267.
Penicuik, S.U., 2014. Global impact of termites on the carbon cycle and atmospheric trace gases. Termites: Evolution, Sociality, Symbioses, Ecology, p.409.
Ulyshen, M.D., 2014. Interacting effects of insects and flooding on wood decomposition. PLoS One, 9(7), p.e101867.
Ulyshen, M.D., Diehl, S.V. and Jeremic, D., 2016. Termites and flooding affect microbial communities in decomposing wood. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 115, pp.83-89.
UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.
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