biologe

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Tag: protozoans

Systematics and biology of termites and about their phoretic associations

They live in eusocial communities, but are not closer related to ants or bees. Termites belong to the cockroaches.

 

Queen, king and castes

 

Usually one queen and one king are reproductive and act as heads of the nest. The different work fields of a nest are executed by infertile specimens, which can show very different and specialized body shapes. The diversity of different castes is in phylogenetically „primitive“ taxa lower than in „higher developed“ termite groups.

 

As example specimens of a deadwood species from Italy

 

This species was found in deadwood of a small forest in Portici (Gulf of Naples, Italy) and might represent the taxon Kalotermitidae. This taxon branches off rather basically  in the systematic tree of termites. Nest work can be taken over by nymphs of later alates.

 

deadwood-termites from Italy, Youtube: copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, April 2020

 

 

How is wood-eating possible?

 

Wood eating termites bear bacteria and protozoans  in their digestive tracts, which perform the digestion of cellulose.

 

Evolution, sister taxon and endosymbionts

 

Termites (Isoptera) evolved within the cockroaches (Blattodea). According to modern systematics (e.g.  Beccaloni & Eccleton, 2011) the cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae is the sister-clade of the termites. But there are controversial theories existing.

According to such reconstructions, the last common ancestor of cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae and termites possessed bacterial and protozoan endosymbionts. Molecular data proved that endosymbionts in both groups are closely related to each other. The last common ancestor of both groups showed in case of their indeed sister-group-relation a tendency towards social communities. Cryptocercidae live temporarily in bigger groups together with their offspring.

 

Subsocial lifestyle in Cryptocercidae

 

Cockroaches of the Cryptocercidae as putative sister taxon of termites live inside galleries in deadwood and feed on wood fibres. At least one parent and its nymphs live subsocially inside their galleries. Cryptocercidae adults and nymphs groom each other, and parents feed juveniles with wood fragments afer these had passed their anus openings.

 

According to recent systematic/ phylogenetic reconstructions the Kalotermitidae belong to the basically branching termite groups. Such basic groups of termites still show a low diversity of castes only.

 

Associates, commensalism and phoresy

 

Like ants or bees, termites share their nests regularly with associates of other groups of animals,

often mites and nematodes. Some of these organisms use termites as carriers for a transport over bigger distances. details of such associations between insects and mites are not well studied yet. But carrier-passenger-situations with transfer („taxi“-) purposes are called phoresy. Phoresy ist mostly considered as a neutral association between different organisms and is thus interpreted as commensalism. Commensalism is differed from strategies like parasiticm or symbiosis and requires that two organisms in association do not harm or noticeably benefit each other. The term commensalism often includes associations, in which the true context for both organism partners is simply not understood yet.

 

Not yet mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes) were reared in greater numbers out of my Italian termite substrate. They might represent phoretic cohabitants of those termites. Other mite species of different mite groups (Parasitiformes and Acariformes) were only found in smaller numbers and died out too quickly for collections and determinations under my culture conditions, unfortunately already before the beginning of my shootings. seemingly microclimatic conditions had become too unfavorable.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019 – 2020, all rights reserved

Microscopic wrack inhabitants: Mites (Ameronothridae), Protozoans, nematodes and Dipterans

Decomposing detritus (mostly dead algae debris) of marine organic material, laying onshore more or less close to the water line, containing seaweed or cadavers of aqatic animals, is named wrack. Wrack can appear under different kinds of ecological circumstances. In case, it would be in permanent contact with sea water, it might be mostly decomposed by marine organisms. But due to different reasons, wrack can land apart from a permanent sea water contact or even no sea water contact at all any more.

Here mostly terrestrial organisms with a tolerance for salty conditions would inhabit and decompose this piece of detritus. Sandhoppers (Cristacea) are known to switch between wracks of different conditions. They can for example carry mites or nematodes from one wrack habitat to another. Dead organic material generally always needs to be decomposed by living organisms, otherwise the whole ecological system would be harmed.

 

A specific kind of micro habitats

 

A small habitat, which would dry out after a while and thus exists only for a limited time, is called ephemere biochorion. Organisms being adapted to live there, must have adaptations, to leave their habitat by time to avoid desiccation. One option is a life strategy, which is named phoresy. Weaker organisms, unable to desperse themselves efficiently use other animals, such as winged insects, to take a ride on them to new habitats with suitable conditions for a development. Generally phoretic organisms can for example be represented by different groups of mites (e.g. Uropodida, Gamasina, Tarsenomidae, Scutacaridae, some Oribatida, Astigmata) and nematodes (Rhabditida).

 

Mites and nematodes

 

In case of wrack, decomposing close to the waterline, but without or only occasional water contact, Pellioditis marina (Nematoda, Rhabditida) is for example known as phoretic inhabitant along German coasts. Worldwide, crypitical sibling species of P. marina were meanwhile discovered. Depending on the exact situation of the wrack, also aquatic nematodes could appear there for a while. I couldn’t determine the nematode in my footage unfortunately at all, because I did not prepare slides of them enable a larger microscopic magnification. Phoretic mites can be associated with sand-hoppers (Amphipoda, Crustacea) and thus appear in wrack. Mites of the Histiostomatidae (Astigmata) were for example discovered in such a context by some researchers.

 

Mites of the Ameronothridae (Oribatida), sand-hoppers and dipterans

 

I so far never found them randomly, but also didn’t explicitely seek for histiostomatid species until now. My sample did not contain any Astigmata or I at least didn’t find them. Common inhabitants of decomposing wrack are oribatid mites of the Ameronothridae. This taxon with a worldwide distribution is charaterized by specific adaptations to deal as terrestrial organisms with (partly extreme) salty marine conditions. They are mostly algae feeders. Some species are known to appear in wrack. The sample, which I collected in context of the so called „Geo Tag der Natur 2018“ (Geo (journal) day of nature) in Norddeich Mole (East Frisian coast of Germany) contained many specimens (ca. 40, sample size of about 20×20 cm) of the Ameronothridae-species Ameronothrus sp.. My footage shows only one living specimen, as all had died until I began my filming activities.

Inhabitants of decomposing algae tissue along a beach at German North Sea, all copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

But I preserved several dead specimens for scientifc purposes. Ameronothridae might, according to literature, use phoresy via birds, but also might disperse themselves over smaller distances, due to their well developed cuticle, protecting against desiccation, and their rather fast locomotion abilities. Larvae of different species of flies (Diptera) developed inside my sample and hatched under my laboratory conditions after about two weeks. They intensively contributed to a fast decomposition of that organic marine tissue. Sand-hoppers were by the way not found at all.

 

Bacteria and protozoans

 

Bacteria are most important decomposers. But the function of protozoans (here e.g. Ciliata) in regard to the process of wrack degradation, which could still be isolated alive after about two weeks of decomposition,  is unknown to me. My sample was found almost on top of a dike, meters away from the highest tide in that area and consisted mostly of the seaweed Fucus vesiculosus.It also contained sea gull feathers.

 

Berlin/ Norddeich Mole June/August/November 2018 Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth