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Heuweltjies (earth mounds) in the Clanwilliam district, Cape Province, South Africa: 4000-year-old termite nests

Summary

Examination of eroded and intact earth mounds in the Clanwilliam district, South Africa, indicates that they are well-established active termitaria of the harvester termite Microhodotermes viator. Unoccupied lower portions of the mounds contain ubiquitous trace-fossil evidence of earlier inhabitation by the same species. Previous studies indicating that fossorial molerats played a major role in the formation of the mounds are not supported by the observations presented here. Calcretization of the basal parts of the earth mounds has been caused by groundwater interaction with the more alkaline mound soil. 14C dating of this calcrete indicates that the earth mounds have been in existence for at least 4000 years, an order of magnitude greater than any previously recorded longevity for termitarium inhabitation.

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Moore, J.M., Picker, M.D. Heuweltjies (earth mounds) in the Clanwilliam district, Cape Province, South Africa: 4000-year-old termite nests. Oecologia 86, 424–432 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00317612

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00317612

Key words

  • Earth mounds
  • Termites
  • Calcrete
  • Radiocarbon dating
  • Microhodotermes viator