African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology

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Green house gas emissions from termite ecosystem

V Gomati, K Ramasamy, K Kumar, N Sivaramaiah, RVR Mula


Methanogenic archaea (methanogens) that inhabit the gut of termites generate enormous amount of methane that adds to the global atmospheric methane (CH4). Methane is an important trace gas in the atmosphere, contributing significantly to long wave absorption and bringing in variations into the chemistries of both the troposphere and the stratosphere. In the troposphere, methane acts as a sink for hydroxide (OH) and as a source for carbon monoxide (CO). While in the stratosphere, methane is a sink for chlorine (Cl) molecules and a source of water vapor, which is a dominant greenhouse gas. Analysis has shown that atmospheric concentrations of methane have increased by about 30% over the last 40 years. Such an increase may greatly affect future levels of stratospheric ozone and hence, the climate of the earth. Recent estimates of the total annual source strength of CH4 vary from 400 to 1200 Tg. Activities such as rice cultivation, cattle production, mining, use of fossil fuels and biomass burning is believed to be the cause of increasing methane levels in the atmosphere. To add to this list is the source from termites, which contributes measurable quantities of CH4 ranging from 2 to 150 Tg per year. However, data indicate that while there are large variations in the amount of CH4 produced by different species, the total methane addition due to termites is probably less than 15 Tg per year, thus making a contribution of less than 5% to global CH4 emissions. Furthermore, the review addresses questions related to the biological aspects of termite harboring groups of bacteria that participate in methanogenesis and various other biotechnological potential of unique microbiota as well as possible strategies to mitigate methanogenesis by termite.

Key words: Macrotermes, methane, carbondioxide, GHG, methanobacteria, methanosarcina.

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