610 - Rising temperatures are putting American cities at risk of termite invasions.

Warming temperatures and urban development create ideal conditions for termites to spread to new territories.

As temperatures rise due to climate change, destructive termites could invade urban areas from Miami to New York, according to research published in the journal Neobiota, reported by Newsweek on May 1. This could lead to enormous losses, as termites currently cost the world $40 billion annually.

There are over 2,000 species of termites on Earth, exhibiting a wide range of behaviors, sizes, and preferred habitats. Termites primarily consume cellulose, the main component of wood. They can digest cellulose with the help of symbiotic microorganisms in their guts. Many termite species are invasive, including the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) from East Asia.

They have established invasive populations across the United States, particularly in southern states, where they can cause severe structural damage due to their large colony sizes and rapid wood consumption rates. Invasive termites are responsible for significant economic damage to buildings, crops, and forestry, causing wooden structures to deteriorate quickly.

Termites cause extensive damage to homes and infrastructure each year.

In the study, a team of experts from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium modeled the potential spread of 10 invasive termite species across future territories. They found that as temperatures rise in the coming decades, termites will spread further and tend to live more in urban areas due to urbanization.

The study’s results reveal that many invasive termite species could find suitable habitats in highly urbanized areas and the interconnected regions of major economic zones on every continent except Antarctica. This trend is especially evident in the context of climate change and increasing socio-economic development, which provide more favorable biological and infrastructural conditions for termites.

Dense populations and the interconnected nature of urban centers offer a perfect environment for termite invasions, posing a threat to several American cities. C. formosanus, with its distribution in warm temperate to subtropical regions, presents a particular risk to large cities in the southeastern United States.

Additionally, termites can spread globally through the international shipping network, especially in wood products. Termite colonies nesting inside wooden items can travel from the West Indies to France, according to study co-authors Edouard Duquesne and Denis Fournier at the Université libre de Bruxelles.

Attracted to light, termite queens can initiate reproduction, establishing new colonies in dry areas. Researchers hope their findings can help cities and policymakers implement measures to protect homes and infrastructure from termite invasions.
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