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A global threat knocking on the doors of major cities: ULB professors warn against invasive termites

20 Mai 2024
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With global warming and the increasing interconnections between cities and ecosystems near and far, invasive termites could colonise cities around the world. This is the warning two professors from the Université libre de Bruxelles' Evolutionary Biology and Ecology Laboratory (Faculty of Science) are triggering with their new study. The threat would entail considerable costs, with damage caused by invasive termites already estimated at more than 40 billion dollars a year.

Termites, often caricatured as voracious wood pests, actually play a key role as ecological engineers within tropical forests. Only a fraction of them cause significant damage to homes.

However, the recent study published in Neobiota journal by Edouard Duquesne and Denis Fournier show that invasive termites could colonise cities all over the world, from hot tropical zones such as Miami, São Paulo, Lagos, Jakarta and Darwin to temperate metropolises such as Paris, Brussels, London, New York and Tokyo.

Furthermore, the global trade in goods, including wooden furniture transported by private ships, offers unsuspected routes for these silent invaders to travel to our homes:

An isolated termite colony lurking in a small piece of wood could travel clandestinely from the West Indies to your flat in Cannes. It could, for example, hide in furniture aboard a yacht moored in the port of Cannes during the Film Festival," explain the researchers.

We need to prevent and detect further invasions before irreversible damage occurs

The researchers call for rapid action on the part of political decision-makers and the general public. Large cities, whatever their climate, must implement strict termite control measures to protect homes and infrastructure:

At a time when we are already facing the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, awareness and proactive measures are our best defence against the creeping threat of invasive termites. Citizens can play a crucial role by using technology, such as AI-assisted applications like iNaturalist, to detect and report the presence of termites, turning ordinary residents into vigilant guardians of their environment," stress the researchers.

Therefore, the study concludes, the matter can no longer be postponed, as the damages are irreversible. 

Find out more from the original story, in French.