Field Talk: Termites enrich the soil in East Africa

Alison Brody holds a piece of termite mound

Vertebrate fertilizer is not the only source of nutrients in the soils of East African savannahs, at least according to a study recently published in the journal Ecology. Alison Brody from the University of Vermont and colleagues found that termites actually had more of an effect on the fruiting success of Acacia trees in Kenya than did dung and urine deposition from ungulate herbivores, such as zebras and gazelles.

The underground termite mounds, covered in vegetation and ranging from 5-10 meters in size, increased nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil—significantly more so than ungulates typically provided. In this edition of Field Talk, Brody talks about the symbiotic relationships these Acacia trees have with vertebrates and invertebrates, her plans for future research on the effects of cattle grazing on this land and her experiences in the field with the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment.  

Field Talk highlights the work of ecological scientists who have been published in three of the Society’s journals—Ecology, Ecological Applications and Ecological Monographs—or who are involved in programs of the Society. Field Talk is primarily a podcast but also features written stories or submitted videos and other materials describing ecologists’ experiences in the field. To share your unique, funny or enlightening stories from the field for consideration by Field Talk, email Katie Kline at  

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Brody, A., Palmer, T., Fox-Dobbs, K., & Doak, D. (2010). Termites, vertebrate herbivores, and the fruiting success of Acacia drepanolobium Ecology, 91 (2), 399-407 DOI: 10.1890/09-0004.1