Macrotermes termite mounds influence the spatial pattern of tree species in two African rainforest sites, in northern Congo. But were they really forests in the past?


Termite mounds have been poorly studied in tropical rainforest in contrast to those of savannahs where they create fertility hotspots and influence the spatial pattern of vegetation. An inventory of termite mounds and of 15 tree species with a diameter at breast height ≥ 10 cm was carried out in two 800-ha blocks, in two rainforest sites located in northern Congo. We used inhomogeneous and intertype K functions to study the spatial pattern of termite mounds and of tree species around mounds, respectively. We found that mounds in Loundoungou were over-dispersed within a radius of less than 70 m, while those in Mokabi were randomly spaced. Tree species within a 20-m radius around a mound were aggregated towards the mound, e.g. Entandrophragma cylindricum, randomly distributed, or even repulsed by the mound. The specific responses also differed in the two sites. These results suggest that (i) the mounds in Loundoungou were created by savannah termite species 3,000-2,000 years BP during the Late Holocene Rainforest Crisis and (ii) the mounds in Mokabi are characteristic of forest mounds. The impact of termite mounds on the spatial pattern of tree species is thus site-dependent, and these differences might be due to species seed dispersal strategies and to soil calcium concentrations.

Journal of Tropical Ecology