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There is a wide range of termite species on the planet. Although it may be hard to believe, but most termites are not interested in eating your house. In fact, only ten percent of the more than twenty five hundred termite species that exist are considered pests. So what do all of these non-problematic termites eat? Termites that are not considered pests still consume cellulose, only they prefer to feed solely on dead plant matter that is found in the wild. There are many termite species that are nothing but beneficial considering the amount of dead plant matter that they recycle in the environment. There are also numerous termite species that farm and feed on fungus. Fungal-feeding termites have adapted the ability to discriminate between different species of fungi. Some species of fungus are desired by termites, while other species are harmful and are avoided or suppressed by termites. Humans also prefer certain fungal species above others. Many farmers, for example, are plagued by different species of crop-damaging fungi. As it happens, termites and humans sometimes agree about which forms of fungi are desirable and which are to be removed as harmful. This is why researchers believe that termites could be beneficial to farmers who are struggling to control certain species of crop damaging fungi. Theoretically, termites could be released into crops in order to bury damaging types of fungi.

Researchers have discovered that the species of termite known as Odontotermes obesus burys a form of fungus that is damaging to crops. Upon encountering the fungi, termites will bury it in order to avoid poisoning their own fungal crops. This termite species cultivates and feeds on a species of fungus that is referred to as Termitomyces. The weedy fungus that termites must bury in order to preserve their crops is known as Pseudoxylaria. The Pseudoxylaria species of fungus is damaging to human crops as well as  fungal termite crops. A study conducted using O. obesus termites showed that they could differentiate between Pseudoxylaria and Termitomyces by smell alone. Researchers are still investigating any possible application that this finding could have in future pest control operations.

Do you think that releasing non-native termites into crops is a bad idea even if they seem to be beneficial in early studies?

 

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