Huge quantities around equator. Can damage or destroy. houses in warmer climates. Not a problem in the colder climates.
As an energy source
The U.S. Department of Energy is researching ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of cleaner energy, and termites are considered a possible way to reach this goal through metagenomics.
Termites may produce up to two litres of hydrogen from digesting a single sheet of paper, making them one of the planet’s most efficient bioreactors.
Termites achieve this high degree of efficiency by exploiting the metabolic capabilities of about 200 different species of microbes that inhabit their hindguts. The microbial community in the termite gut efficiently manufactures large quantities of hydrogen; the complex lignocellulosepolymers within wood are broken down into simple sugars by fermenting bacteria in the termite’s gut, using enzymes that produce hydrogen as a byproduct. A second wave of bacteria uses the simple sugars and hydrogen to make the acetate the termite requires for energy.
By sequencing the termite’s microbial community, the DOE hopes to get a better understanding of these biochemical pathways. If it can be determined which enzymes are used to create hydrogen, and which genes produce them, this process could potentially be scaled up with bioreactors to generate hydrogen from woody biomass, such as poplar, in commercial quantities.
All termites eat cellulose in its various forms as plant fibre. Cellulose is a rich energy source (as demonstrated by the amount of energy released when wood is burned), but remains difficult to digest. Termites rely primarily upon symbiotic protozoa (metamonads) such as Trichonympha, and other microbes in their guts to digest the cellulose for them and absorb the end products for their own use.
Termites mostly feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung, and about 10% of the estimated 4,000 species (about 3,106 taxonomically known) are economically significant as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests.
Termites are major detritivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and other plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.