Methanogens in the Digestive Tract of Termites

  • Andreas BruneEmail author
Part of the Microbiology Monographs book series (MICROMONO, volume 19)


Methanogenesis in the enlarged hindgut compartments of termites is a product of symbiotic digestion, fueled by hydrogen and reduced one-carbon compounds formed during the fermentative breakdown of plant fiber and humus. Methanogens are not always the predominant hydrogenotrophic microorganisms, especially in wood-feeding termites, but are restricted to particular microhabitats within the gut. The methanogens in lower termites belong to different lineages of Methanobacteriales that either are endosymbionts of flagellate protists or colonize the periphery of the hindgut, a habitat that is not fully anoxic. The oxygen-reducing capacities of the few isolates so far available indicate that they are well adapted to the continuous influx of oxygen across the gut wall. Higher termites, which lack gut flagellates, often have highly compartmented guts with highly dynamic physicochemical conditions, including redox and pH. The differences between the microenvironments are most pronounced in the soil-feeding species, where each compartment houses a characteristic archaeal community, comprising Methanobacteriales, Methanosarcinales, Methanomicrobiales, and a novel, deep-branching lineage of putative methanogens distantly related to the Thermoplasmatales. All clades form distinct phylogenetic clusters unique to the intestinal tract of insects, but with the exception of several Methanobrevibacter species, none of these archaea have been isolated in pure culture. The high methane emissions of termites, together with their enormous biomass in the tropics, make them a significant natural source of this important greenhouse gas.


Methane Emission Methanogenic Archaea Termite Species High Termite Lower Termite 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Nicolas Faivre for carefully preparing the phylogenetic tree in Fig. 4.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiogeochemistryMax Planck Institute for Terrestrial MicrobiologyMarburgGermany

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