Study: Termites Protect Rainforests from Prolonged Dry Weather

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. come as no surprise / kʌm əz noʊ sɚˈpraɪz / (idiom) – to be expected as a result of something

    People are illegally cutting down trees, so it comes as no surprise that climate change is getting worse.

  2. instinct / ˈɪnˌstɪŋkt / (n) – a natural behavior

    Dogs have the instinct to clean themselves.

  3. sprout / spraʊt / (v) – to start growing into a plant

    The seeds will sprout in three to four days.

  4. inhabited / ɪnˈhæbətəd / (adj) – occupied by people or animals

    The rainforest is inhabited by different kinds of animals.

  5. put (someone or something) in jeopardy / pʊt ɪn ˈʤɛpɚdi / (idiom) – to endanger someone or something

    The forest fire put the lives of animals in jeopardy.


Read the text below.

A new study revealed that termites help rainforests survive drought, a long period of dry weather with little to no rainfall.

Termites are insects known to destroy wooden houses, clothing, and other materials, so it comes as no surprise that they are commonly considered pests. However, while these insects serve no use to homeowners, a team of scientists found that termites are actually beneficial to tropical rainforests.

The scientists noted that termites thrive in moist soil. During drought, instincts drive termites to dig deeper into the soil in search of moisture. They then bring the moisture to the surface soil, making it easy for seedlings to sprout.

These findings were brought to light after an experiment at a rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. The scientists removed termites from some areas of the rainforest and observed how the insects’ absence affected the lands. Then, they compared those lands with the areas still inhabited by termites.

During the drought, termite activity in the termite-inhabited areas was higher. As a result, the areas with termites had more moisture and nutrients compared to those without the insects.

Because of the findings, scientists are calling for the conservation of the termite population as droughts are predicted to become worse due to climate change. The scientists stressed that without termites, the preservation of the ecosystem and rainforests could be put in jeopardy.

The scientists also emphasized the importance of protecting other species. They said that other species might be playing a key role in the ecosystem, and we are just not aware of their importance yet.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Given the results of the study, do you think people would change their minds about pests like termites? Why or why not?
• Should scientists invest in studying other species considered as pests? Discuss your ideas.

Discussion B

• What are some ways to protect the species in an ecosystem (e.g. limit human interference)?
• How can those initiatives be carried out (e.g. government to ban tourists in the area)?