Camels and Termites – A symbiotic relationship is bridged by the gut’s microbiota


Evolution trained termites to survive on flora waste

The unique creature (termites) learned in the long period of evolution – how to survive on the waste of the floral kingdom? Termites are everywhere, (rainforests, buildings, farmlands, wood stores, etc) but the deserts have even more specialized termites. Usually, termites chew up fallen leaves and dead wood everywhere but in the desert ecosystems, they digest the camel manure (hard balls). This way the termites keep such material under control and return back to nature as food for plants, insects, and animals as well as the microbes in the soil.

The camel manure is envaloped by the termites colony in the desert, Alain Abu Dhabi - UAE
Termites break the nut of the camel manure ball

Termites’ gut is the habitat of unique bacteria – Decomposing wood and camel manure in the desert

There is a specialized microbiome in the termites’ gut, enabling them to digest the woody and fibrous materials (with special power in the desert). In the journey of evolution, such bacteria (termites gut microbiota) either traveled from the camels’ gut to the termites or vice versa, enabling the camels to act as the largest termite of the desert. Termites, rely on flagellated eukaryotic symbionts in the hindgut to cooperatively digest their wood diet and the same job is done in the camel gut to digest tough cellulosic contents. In short videos, you can see the power of termites in my youtube channel. https://youtu.be/Kqb9LNpPe-A https://youtu.be/2-tm2cFIZSU

Wood in the desert is colonized by the termites

Termites harbor complex gut microbiota, which comprises unicellular eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea. On the other hand, a study confirmed the camel rumen’s microbiome as a dense and yet largely untapped source of enzymes with the potential to be used in a range of biotechnological processes including biofuel, fine chemicals, and food processing industries. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6071333/

The termites inhibit in diverse ecosystems

But they play a key role in many natural ecosystems. Scientists have known for years that in tropical forests, termites chew up fallen leaves and dead wood, keeping the fallen material under control and shepherding nutrients from the dead material back into the system to be used by other plants, insects, and animals. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/termites-protect-rainforests-climate-drought

Way forward

The termites and the camels are poorly understood as being the pivotal players of the desert ecosystem. I would suggest the young scientists come forward and find the delicate symbiotic relationship among the desert, camel, termites, and microbiome.

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