Termites and ants boost crops, Australian Geographic // 7 April 2011

ANTS AND TERMITES HAVE long had a bad rap for stealing picnic food and chomping through house frames, but it turns out that their services are invaluable to Australian farmers.

New research from CSIRO and the University of Sydney has shown that, by performing an earthworm-like role in soil enrichment, the insects can boost crop yields in the dry areas of Australia’s wheat belt by more than one-third.

“The sheer size of the effect is what is most surprising to me,” says lead author Dr Theo Evans, from CSIRO Ecosystem Science in Canberra. “I didn’t think it’d have such a huge impact – a 36 per cent yield increase compared to my expected five per cent.”

The results suggest that ants and termites not only increase grain yields but can cut fertiliser bills and decrease the need for pesticides. “It’s likely to mean decreased pesticide use, especially pesticide that is applied to the ground,” Theo told Australian Geographic.

Read the rest of my article online here.

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