Effects of two locust control methods on wood-eating termites in arid Australia
Termites are ubiquitous detritivores and are a key influence on soil function and nutrient cycles, particularly in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Locust control presents a unique hazard to termites and the effective functioning of ecosystems as a consequence of the overlap between pesticide applications and termite populations in grassland and desert landscapes. We monitored the effects of locust control methods using ultra-low-volume (ULV) barrier application of a chemical pesticide, fipronil, and a blanket application of a fungal biopesticide, Metarhiziumacridum, on wood-eating termites in arid western New South Wales, Australia. We tested the hypothesis that spray applications decrease termite activity at wood baits using a BACI designed field experiment over 2 years. Our replicated control and treatment sites represented the spatial scale of Australian locust control activities. There was no detectable impact of either locust control treatment on termite activity, bait mass loss or termite community composition measures. Non-significant differences in termite survey measures among sites suggested that climate and environmental conditions were stronger drivers of our termite measures than the single, localized and unreplicated application of pesticides more commonly used in locust control operations in arid Australia. A lack of evidence for an impact of our fipronil or Metarhizium application methods supports their use as low hazard locust control options with minimal large scale and longer-term effects on termites in Australian arid rangelands. Future research would be necessary to determine the probable short-term impacts of treatments on individual termite colonies and the possible impacts on non-wood eating termite species in the arid-zone.