River red gums work outside the square for survival

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

We all know about Meals On Wheels but what about meals on legs, six legs namely, termites’ legs?

 

Local amateur botanist Alex Nelson has come up with an observation that mirrors the charity in the human domain with one in the world of trees, both coping with hardship.

 

In some magnificent river red gums of The Centre, three forces are at work, with life-saving results for the trees as well as creating five-star nesting places for birds.

 

The gums suffer from dieback. However, they recover by aborting the affected growth and resprout. It’s rare for these trees to be killed by it, says Mr Nelson.

 

The dieback seems to be caused by internal wood-rotting fungi.

 

Enter the termites.

 

“What has become apparent to me is that the trees host the fungi, which infests and decays the dead heartwood in the trunks and branches,” says Mr Nelson.

 

“In turn the termites feed on the softened hardwood and fill the resultant cavities with soil and frass.”

 

That is both a fine powdery refuse or fragile perforated wood produced by the activity of boring insects as well as the excrement of insect larvae, according to the online Kill Termites Guide.

 

“The trees in turn are able to grow roots internally and upwards within the enriched soil deposited by the termites inside the trunks and branches,” says Mr Nelson.

 

“Occasionally this becomes readily observable from damage to the trees from wind or fire.

 

“This is the process by which these iconic trees are hollowed out, providing vital habitats for many other species.

 

“I’m unaware this particular relationship is documented but I stand to be corrected.”

 

So, as well as sending roots down into the ground for water, these trees are sending them up inside their own trunks in search of food: A dramatic example of resourcefulness in this harsh part of the world.

 

 

 

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