I, for One, Welcome our New Interbred, Hybrid Overlords

March 27, 2015

termites500Lindsay Abrams in Salon:

In the latest indication that climate change is going to affect us in strange and horrible ways, University of Florida entomologists have documented how unusual weather patterns appear to be causing the swarming seasons of the two species — the Asian and Formosan termites — to overlap for the first time, giving them an opportunity to meet and mate. (In fact, they say, male Asian termites seem to prefer Formosan females over their own species, further increasing the rate at which this is happening.)

Their study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, documents how this phenomenon is facilitating the development of brand-new hybrid colonies, capable of developing twice as fast as their parent species. The scientists aren’t sure yet whether the super termite itself can reproduce, which would bring even more problems — like the potential for the new species to itself invade other areas beyond Florida. But they’re worried either way.

“Because a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites,” author Nan-Yao Su explained in a statement. Or, as the study puts it, “a kick from a mule is as good as a kick from a donkey.”

And it may be a harsh kick indeed. Asian and Formosan termites already cost as much as $40 billion in damage each year, globally. And that’s nothing, the authors say, compared to what’s coming for Florida: they predict Florida will experience “dramatically increased damage to structures in the near future.”

The study authors point to the unusually warm winters of 2013 and 2014 as reason for the overlap of mating seasons between the two species.

Hybridization of Two Major Termite Invaders as a Consequence of Human Activity – PLOS One:

There is also mounting evidence that warming environments resulting from climate change can be an important factor contributing to such hybridization, either by altering the species distribution, or temporally shifting the mating season of species.
While the hybridization of non-native species with native species has been documented in a wide range of organisms, including plants, amphibians, fishes, mammals and insects, few cases of hybridization involving two invasive species in non-native areas have been described. One such case is the hybridization of two invasive fire ant species Solenopsis invicta × S. richteri where a hybrid zone is now fully established in the Southern United States.
To a lesser extent, gene introgression from the Africanized honey bee to European honey bee populations Apis mellifera subspecies has become a problem for human activity in North and South America.


7 Responses to “I, for One, Welcome our New Interbred, Hybrid Overlords”

  1. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    Florida not the best place to start a new underground empire!

    • John Scanlon Says:

      Yes, but how long will this be a problem? – termites can’t breathe underwater.

      • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

        John, I think that was my point!

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Yep, that’s exactly the point, and I was thinking along the same lines, but figured “why bother” replying to a post that was interesting but not as significant as Antarctica sliding into the ocean, for instance.

          You’ve actually missed John’s point, Andy. He was obviously extending the idea of hybridization between invasive species to the next step. Termites hybridizing with one of the many invasive fish species that abound in FL because people dump their aquariums in the nearest body of water when they get bored with them (see snakefish in the Potomac).

          Once termites have gills, they will be OK living in the “new” Florida. Remember, FL is the state that elected Rick Scott, so it’s no stretch to think that it will soon have underwater termites (to go along with the flying pigs, but that’s really politics, not science).

  2. Richard Says:

    The virus called Homo sapiens will soon be gone, but the effects of that species existence on the biosphere will echo through the coming millennia.

    Humanity has significantly changed the course of Life on Earth and one of the most significant of those changes will be its own self-inflicted extinction.

    Earth still has around a billion years or so to evolve before changes in the sun make Life here impossible. Perhaps before then a new species will evolve that will accomplish what humans never could: civilisation.

  3. andrewfez Says:

    Yes, but can they be ate?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, they can be ate. With a side order of grits and a shot of Texas Pete, of course.

      And if you want to get serious, a termiteburger would be better for you and the environment than a beefburger or “eat more chiken”.

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