, Volume 82, Issue 3, pp 241–250 | Cite as

Calcium carbonate in termite galleries – biomineralization or upward transport?

Original Paper


Termites and soil calcium carbonate are major factors in the global carbon cycle: termites by their role in decomposition of organic matter and methane production, and soil calcium carbonate by its storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In arid and semiarid soils, these two factors potentially come together by means of biomineralization of calcium carbonate by termites. In this study, we evaluated this possibility by testing two hypotheses. Hypothesis 1 states that termites biomineralize calcium carbonate internally and use it as a cementing agent for building aboveground galleries. Hypothesis 2 states that termites transport calcium carbonate particles from subsoil horizons to aboveground termite galleries where the carbonate detritus becomes part of the gallery construction. These hypotheses were tested by using (1) field documentation that determined if carbonate-containing galleries only occurred on soils containing calcic horizons, (2) 13C/12C ratios, (3) X-ray diffraction, (4) petrographic thin sections, (5) scanning electron microscopy, and (6) X-ray mapping. Four study sites were evaluated: a C4-grassland site with no calcic horizons in the underlying soil, a C4-grassland site with calcic horizons, a C3-shrubland site with no calcic horizons, and a C3-shrubland site with calcic horizons. The results revealed that carbonate is not ubiquitously present in termite galleries. It only occurs in galleries if subsoil carbonate exists within a depth of 100 cm. 13C/12C ratios of carbonate in termite galleries typically matched 13C/12C ratios of subsoil carbonate. X-ray diffraction revealed that the carbonate mineralogy is calcite in all galleries, in all soils, and in the termites themselves. Thin sections, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray mapping revealed that carbonate exists in the termite gut along with other soil particles and plant opal. Each test argued against the biomineralization hypothesis and for the upward-transport hypothesis. We conclude, therefore, that the gallery carbonate originated from upward transport and that this CaCO3 plays a less active role in short-term carbon sequestration than it would have otherwise played if it had been biomineralized directly by the termites.


Atmospheric carbon dioxide Arid and semiarid soils Carbon isotopes Carbon sequestration Chihuahuan Desert Pedogenic carbonate 


  1. Arshad MA (1981) Physical and chemical properties of termite mounds of two species of Macrotermes (Isoptera, Termitidae) and the surrounding soils of semiarid of Kenya. Soil Sci 132:161–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asawalam DO, Osogdeke VE, Kamalu OJ, Ugwa IK (1999) Effects of termites on the physical and chemical properties of the acid sandy soils of southern Nigeria. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 30:1691–1696CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birdsey RA, Lewis GM (2003) Carbon in U.S. forests and wood products, 1987–1997: state-by-state estimates. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report NE-310, Newtown, PennsylvaniaGoogle Scholar
  4. Boutton TW (1991) Stable carbon isotope ratios of natural materials: I. Sample preparation and mass spectrometric analysis. In: Coleman DC, Fry B (eds) Carbon isotope techniques. Academic Press, Inc., New York, pp 155–171Google Scholar
  5. Buffington LC, Herbel CH (1965) Vegetation changes on a semidesert grassland range. Ecol Monogr 35:139–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Conley W., Conley MR, Karl TR (1992) A computational study of episodic events and historical context in long-term ecological process: climate and grazing in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Coenoses 7:55–60Google Scholar
  7. Craig H (1957) Isotopic standards for carbon and oxygen and correction factors for mass spectrometric analysis of carbon dioxide. Geochim et Cosmochim Acta 12:133–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eswaran H, Reich PF, Kimble JM, Beinroth FH, Padmanabhan E, Moncharoen P (2000) Global carbon stocks. In: Lal R, Kimble JM, Eswaran H, Stewart BA (eds) Global climate change and pedogenic carbonates. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 15–26Google Scholar
  9. Follett RF, Kimble JM, Lal R (2001) The potential of U.S. grazing lands to sequester carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect. Lewis Publishers, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  10. Gibbens RP, McNeely RP, Havstad KM, Beck RF, Nolen B (2005) Vegetation change in the Jornada Basin from 1858 to 1998. J Arid Environ 61:651–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gile LH (1975) Causes of soil boundaries in an arid region; II. Dissection, moisture, and faunal activity. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 39:324–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gile LH, Peterson FF, Grossman RB (1966) Morphological and genetic sequences of carbonate accumulation desert soils. Soil Sci 101:347–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gile LH, Ahrens RJ, Anderson SP (2003) Supplement to the Desert Project Soil Monograph, vol III. Soil Survey Investigations Report No. 44. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lincoln, NEGoogle Scholar
  14. Grossman RB, Ahrens RJ, Gile LH, Montoya CE, Chadwick OA (1995) Areal evaluation of organic and carbonate carbon in a desert area of southern New Mexico. In: Lal R, Kimble JM, Levine E, Stewart BA (eds) Soils and global change. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 81–92Google Scholar
  15. Houghton J (2004) Global warming—the complete briefing. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Khalil M, Rasmussen RA, French JRJ, Holt JA (1990) The influence of termites on atmospheric trace gases—CH4, CO2, CHCl3, N2O, CO, H2, and light-hydrocarbons. J Geophys Res 95:3619–3634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kimble JM, Heath LS, Birdsey RA, Lal R (2003) The potential of U.S. forest soils to sequester carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect. Lewis Publishers, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  18. Kraimer RA, Monger HC, Steiner RL (2005) Mineralogical distinctions of carbonates in desert soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69:1773–1781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lal R (1987) Tropical ecology and physical edaphology. John Wiley & Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Lal R, Kimble JM, Follett RF, Cole CV (1998) The potential of U.S. cropland to sequester carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect. Ann Arbor Press, Inc., Chelsea, MIGoogle Scholar
  21. Lee KE, Wood TG (1971a) Termites and soils. Academic Press, London and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Lee KE, Wood TG (1971b) Physical and chemical effects on soils of some Australian termites, and their pedological significance. Pedobiologia 11:376–409Google Scholar
  23. Liu X (2002) Calcium carbonate in subterrannean termite foraging galleries in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. PhD Dissertation, New Mexico State Univ., Las Cruces, U.S.AGoogle Scholar
  24. Lowenstam HA, Weiner S (1989) On biomineralization. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Milne G (1947) A soil reconnaissance journey through parts of Tanganyaka territory December 1935 to February 1936. J Ecol 35:192–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Monger HC (2003) Millennial-scale climate variability and ecosystem response at the Jornada LTER site. In: Greenland D, Goodin DG, Smith RC (eds) Climate variability and ecosystem response at long-term ecological research sites. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, pp 341–369Google Scholar
  27. Monger HC, Gallegos RA (2000) Biotic and abiotic processes and rates of pedogenic carbonate accumulation in the southwestern United States—relationship to atmospheric CO2 Sequestration. In: Lal R, Kimble JM, Eswaran H, Stewart BA (eds) Global climate change and pedogenic carbonates. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 273–290Google Scholar
  28. Monger HC, Martiñez-Rios JJ (2001) Inorganic carbon sequestration in grazing lands. In: Follett RF, Kimble JM, Lal R (eds) The potential of U.S. grazing lands to sequester carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 87–118Google Scholar
  29. Monger HC, Kelly EF (2002) Silica minerals. In: Dixon JB, Schulze DG (eds) Soil mineralogy with environmental applications. SSSA Book Series, no. 7. Madison, Wisconsin, pp 611–636Google Scholar
  30. Monger HC, Martiñez-Rios JJ, Khresat SA (2005) Arid and semiarid soils. In: Hillel D (ed) Encyclopedia of soils in the environment. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, U.K., pp 182–187Google Scholar
  31. Moore JM, Picker MD (1991) Heuweltjies (earth mounds) in the Clanwilliam district, Cap Province, South Africa: 4000-year-old termite nests. Oecologia 86:424–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schlesinger WH (1982) Carbon storage in the caliche of arid soils: a case study from Arizona. Soil Sci 133:247–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schlesinger WH (1985) The formation of caliche in soils of the Mojave Desert, California. Geochim et Cosmochim Acta 49:57–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Simkiss K, Wilbur KM (1989) Biomineralization: cell biology and mineral deposition. Academic Press, Inc., San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  35. Sobecki TM, Moffitt DL, Stone J, Franks CD, Mendenhall AJ (2001) A broad-scale perspective on the extent, distribution, and characteristics of U.S. grazing lands. In: Follett RF, Kimble JM, Lal R (eds) The potential of U.S. grazing lands to sequester carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 21–63Google Scholar
  36. Soil Survey Staff (1993) Soil survey manual. Soil Conservation Service. U.S. Dep. Agric. Handbook 18, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  37. Soil Survey Staff (1999) Soil taxonomy—A basic system of soil classification for making and interpreting soil surveys. USDA Agriculture Hand book Number 436. US Govt. Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  38. Syvertsen JP, Nickell GL, Spellenberg RW, Cunningham GL (1976) Carbon reduction pathways and standing crop in three Chihuahuan Desert plant communities. Southwest Nat 21:311–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thorp J (1967) Effects of certain animals that live in soils. In: Drew JV (ed) Selected papers in soil formation and classification. The Soil Science Society of America, Inc. SSSA Special Publication Series, pp 191–208Google Scholar
  40. Weiner S, Dove PM (2003) An overview of biomineralization processes and the problem of the vital effects. In: Dove PM, DeYoreo JJ, Weiner S (eds) Biomineralization. Reviews in mineralogy and geochemistry, vol 54. Mineral. Soc. Am., Washington, DC, pp 1–30Google Scholar
  41. Whitford WG (1991) Subterranean termites and long-term productivity of desert rangelands. Sociobiology 19:235–243Google Scholar
  42. Whitford WG (2002) Ecology of desert systems. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant and Environmental SciencesNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.Jornada Experimental Range, USDA-Agricultural Research ServiceLas CrucesUSA

Personalised recommendations