Termites on Tour: How Climate Change Is Bringing Pests to Your Doorstep

Invasive Termites

Workers and soldiers of the invasive termite Reticulitermes. Credit: David Mora – https://www.pasiontermitas.com

Rising global temperatures could lead to more widespread termite infestations, increasing damage costs beyond the current 40 billion USD per year, with researchers calling for immediate action to mitigate this threat.

With the rising temperatures of climate change, homeowners face a new type of threat: invasive termites. Previously unaffected areas could see an influx of termites, and the financial implications are substantial. Currently, termites cause over 40 billion USD worth of damage each year, and as their population expands, this cost is sure to grow.

In a new study published in the open-access journal Neobiota, PhD student Edouard Duquesne and Professor Denis Fournier from the Evolutionary Biology & Ecology lab (Université libre de Bruxelles) unveil the unsettling reality of invasive termites’ potential expansion into new territories.

Their study shows that as temperatures rise and climate patterns shift, cities worldwide, from tropical hotspots like Miami and Lagos to temperate metropolises like Paris or New York, could soon find themselves under siege by these tiny yet destructive pests.

Termite Infestation Specialist Inspects Damage

Adolfo Cuadrado, a termite infestation specialist at Anticimex, meticulously inspects the damages caused by Coptotermes gestroi termites on a house wall. Credit: David Mora

But how do termites, typically associated with tropical climates, find their way into cities far beyond their natural habitat? The answer lies in the interconnectedness of our modern world. Urbanization, with its dense populations and bustling trade networks, provides the perfect breeding ground for termite invasions.

Moreover, the global movement of goods, including wooden furniture transported by private vessels, offers unsuspecting pathways for these silent invaders to hitch a ride into our homes.

“A solitary termite colony, nestled within a small piece of wood, could clandestinely voyage from the West Indies to your Cannes apartment. It might lurk within furniture aboard a yacht moored at the Cannes Film Festival marina,” say the researchers.

“Mating is coming. Termite queens and kings, attracted by lights, may initiate reproduction, laying the groundwork for new colonies to conquer dry land,” they continue.

Duquesne and Fournier’s research emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift in how we approach invasive species modeling. By integrating connectivity variables like trade, transport, and population density, their study highlights the importance of understanding the intricate interactions that facilitate termite spread.

In light of these findings, the researchers urge swift action from policymakers and citizens alike. Major cities, regardless of their climate zone, must implement strict termite control measures to protect homes and infrastructure.

“Citizens can play a crucial role by leveraging technology, such as AI-assisted apps like iNaturalist, to detect and report potential termite sightings, turning ordinary residents into vigilant guardians of their environment,” say the researchers.

“As we confront the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, awareness and proactive measures are our best defense against the creeping menace of invasive termites,” they conclude.

Reference: “Connectivity and climate change drive the global distribution of highly invasive termites” by Edouard Duquesne and Denis Fournier, 30 April 2024, NeoBiota.
DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.92.115411

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