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Researchers Are Puzzled By The Arrival Of A New Termite Species On An Isolated Island

June 22nd, 2018

Researchers Are Puzzled By The Arrival Of A New Termite Species On An Isolated Island

Invasive termites pose serious structural and agricultural problems in countries all over the world. When invasive termites are discovered, it usually does not take long for experts to determine their native orgins. Formosan subterranean termites are one of the most damaging invasive pests in the United States, and they arrived in the US via ships that carried American soldiers home following the second World War in the Pacific. It is understandably important for experts to determine the origin of invasive insects, like Formosan termites, in order to prevent further transports of damaging insects into non-native regions. However, not all non-native termite species are invasive and economically damaging, but these harmless termite expats are rarely, if ever, talked about. Despite their obscurity, experts are sometimes mystified by the presence of non-native and innocuous termite species that dwell on isolated islands. Not long ago, a new termite species was found on Guadeloupe Island located in the Caribbean Sea. It was later found that this same termite species is native to the country of Peru. To this day, researchers are not certain as to how the termite species wound up on Guadeloupe Island.

Since many termite species have been found in regions where they are not native, you may be wondering why the new species found in Guadeloupe is so special. This newly discovered termite species belongs to the Apicotermitinae subfamily and they are known as the Disjunctitermes insularis species. This is a unique subfamily of termites as they do not have a soldier caste. Although many invasive and non-native termites exist in various regions, it is odd to find Disjunctitermes insularis on Guadeloupe because the island had been completely uninhabited by humans before European explorers arrived on the island around five hundred years ago. Today, Disjunctitermes insularis is too widely distributed on the island to have been brought there by early explorers. Furthermore, the termites in Guadalupe dwell in regions that are inhospitable to humans, and to this day, these termites dwell in regions that are completely free of manmade structures and other developments. This is yet another reason to doubt human transport as the cause of this termite’s presence on the island. It is also unlikely that humans would ever have acquired lumber from areas where these termites are active. In fact, only one single locality from the Amazon region had known about the termite’s native presence in their land. Disjunctitermes insularis is also the only non-wood-eating termite species to exist on a deep-water island, and no non-wood-feeding termite species has ever naturally dispersed into non-native regions, let alone to an island. Instead of artificial transport and natural dispersal, researchers believe that a natural pre-Columbian overwater dispersal event carried Disjunctitermes insularis termites to Guadalupe Island from the nearby South American mainland.

Do you think that a landmass once connected Guadalupe Island with the South American continent, thus allowing the Disjunctitermes insularis species to migrate to the island naturally?

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