Termite Towers & Filter-Feeders
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2nd Timothy 3:7)
“Cathedral mounds” built by Australian termites (Wikipedia photo)
The failure of many evolutionists, to see what they are looking at (i.e., to see what is “hidden in plain view”) is comparable to an error British Celts made when Julius Caesar attacked Britain’s shores, at Kent in 54 BC.
The native Celts reported Caesar’s beach landing as an attack by combined armies of Rome, Libya, and Syria.(1) Unlike Romans, British Celts never recruited multi-ethnic mercenaries, so the Britons misinterpreted the invaders as a horde of allied (but separate) armies.(1) Likewise, evolutionists now misunderstand many facts “in plain view”, due to erroneous assumptions.
The evolutionary ecology concept of “ecosystem engineering” was recently introduced in an earlier study(2) to show how some evolutionists are improving their understanding of how proactive animals are, in altering ecosystems—yet those same evolutionists continue to miss the best lessons that these animals can teach us.(2)
Two such misunderstandings are considered below.
“BIGGER-IS-BETTER” AND ANTHROPOCENTRIC FALLACIES
When considering the “ecosystem engineering” concept’s utility, some ecologists try to limit the concept’s application to animal-produced habitat alterations that are impactfully “big”, as opposed to minimal. Thus, beaver dams and coral reefs are recognized as “big enough” to qualify as “ecosystem engineering” habitat modifications.(2) But “little” habitat alterations, like bird-nests and prairie burrows, are often dismissed as de minimis—not worthy of comparable attention.(2)
However, when evaluating ecological activity, this is a “bigger-is-better” fallacy. Which is more “important”, ecologically speaking, a huge elephant—or a microscopic yet deadly virus?
Also, when evaluating whether animal activity is “big enough”, to be ecologically “important”, applying anthropocentric perspectives is unrealistic.
For example, consider how deadwood-eating termites aggressively modify their neighborhoods, using saliva-soil mud, building air-conditioned mud “chimneys” above interconnected subsurface tunnels.
Mounds built by Australia’s Amitermes merionalis termites can be taller than 12’ tall, 8’ wide, and 3’ deep underground.(3)
For adult humans, of heights 6’ tall (more or less), this is impressive, but perhaps not shockingly so. However, to better appraise these physical construction feats, consider that Amitermes “worker” termites are about a third-of-an-inch long. The termites-to-mound height ratio is 432:1 (12’-tall mound, compared to 1/3-of-an-inch-long termite), comparable to humans constructing spit-mud mounds 2592’ high—almost double the Empire State Building’s height!
So, to a “worker” termite, its mound “chimney” is an enormous skyscraper!
Cheetah atop Termit Mound in Namibia (Seeding Labs photo)
Other examples could be given.
The world’s largest bay, the Chesapeake, is burdened with excess nitrogen and organic nutrients that people repeatedly release into its tributaries.
Oysters with Mussels (Chesapeake Bay Program)
Oyster reefs, bolstered by attached mussels, filtering huge volumes of bay water, consume otherwise-unrestrained (nitrogen-compound-fueled) growth of picoplankton (comprising ~15% of bay phytoplankton biomass, during summer), preventing unchecked algal blooms that would block sunlight from submergent aquatic plants, leading to oxygen-depleted “dead zones”.(4)
Thankfully, the combined filtering of Eastern Oysters and Hooked Mussels provides estuarial water clean-up services, “hidden in plain sight”, ultimately benefiting dissolved oxygen needs of the interactive Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem.(4)
SO, WHO ENGINEERED ALL OF THESE “SMALL-YET-GREAT” ECOSYSTEM BENEFITS?
Please, don’t praise bivalve brainpower, for figuring all of this out!—oysters and mussels are neither bioengineering-savvy ecosystem designers, nor conservation scientists.
Likewise, don’t fête the Australian Amitermes termites, as if they were brilliant architects, construction engineers, or HVAC experts!—they’re just bioengineered bugs.
Rather, give due glory to creation’s Architect and Bioengineer, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:7), for He has built and maintains all of these “small-yet-great” super-interactive ecosystems (Revelation 4:11).
(1)William R. Cooper, After the Flood (Chichester, England: New Wine Press, 1995), 58-59, citing Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. (Don’t expect to ever find a more insightful or godlier scholar of Anglo-Saxon history than Laird Bill Cooper!)
(2) “Ecosystem engineering” analysis improves upon earlier “keystone species” concepts, yet ultimately fails to identify the true cause and logic underlying animal successes in filling various habitats. James J. S. Johnson, “Ecosystem Engineering Explanations Miss the Mark”, Acts & Facts, 48(3):20-21 (March 2019), illustrating 2 Timothy 3:7. Evolutionists’ failure to recognize God as the divine Architect-Bioengineer is illustrated by recent ecology literature on “ecosystem engineering”, e.g., Jones, C. G., J. H. Lawton, & M. Shachak, “Organisms as Ecosystem Engineers”, Oikos. 69:373-386 (1994); Wright, J. and C. G. Jones, “The Concept of Organisms as Ecosystem Engineers Ten Years On: Progress, Limitations, and Challenges”, BioScience. 56(3):203-209 (2006). With all the Darwinist emphasis on antagonistic competition between species, the ecological realities of mutualistic neighborliness in biotic communities was downplayed and/or dismissed. See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “Misreading Earth’s Groanings: Why Evolutionists and Intelligent Design Proponents Fail Ecology 101”, Acts & Facts. 39 (8):8-9 (August 2010); James J. S. Johnson, “Grand Canyon Neighbors: Pines, Truffles, and Squirrels”, Acts & Facts. 47(10):21 (October 2018); James J. S. Johnson, “Cactus, Bats, and Christmas Gift-Giving”, Acts & Facts. 46 (12):21 (December 2017). See also, accord, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Engineered Adaptability: Fast Adaptation Confirms Design-Based Model”, Acts & Facts. 47(9):18-20 (September 2018); Randy J. Guliuzza, “Engineered Adaptability: Sensor Triggers Affirm Intelligently Designed Internalism”, Acts & Facts. 47(2):17-19 (February 2018).
(3) Gordon C. Grigg, “Some Consequences of the Shape and Orientation of ‘Magnetic’ Termite Mounds”, Australian Journal of Zoology, 21:231-237 (1973), noting how Amitermes meridionalis termite mounds sometimes 4 meters high.
(4) Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, “Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits”, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (2014). See also Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater Bivalves Flexing their Muscles as Water Filterers”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 28(7):1 (October 2018), cited in “Have You Thanked God for Mussels Lately?”, Bibleworld Adventures (Nov. 12, AD2019), posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2018/11/12/have-you-thanked-god-for-mussels-lately/ . See also, for further discussion of estuariah ecosystem benefits contributed by oysters and mussels, Loren D. Coen, Robert D. Brumbaugh, David Bushek, Ray Grizzle, mark W. Luckenbach, Martin H. Posey, Sean P. Powers, & S. Gregory Tolley, “Ecosystem Services Related to Oyster Restoration”, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 341:303-307 (July 2007), saying: “Although further discussion and research leading to a more complete understanding is required, oysters and other molluscs (e.g., mussels) in estuarine ecosystems provide services far beyond the mere top-down control of phytoplankton blooms, such as (1) seston filtration, (2) benthic-pelagic coupling, (3) creation of refugia from predation, (4) creation of feeding habitat for juveniles and adults of mobile species, and for sessile stages of species that attach to molluscan shells, and (5) provision of nesting habitat.” Obviously God is the ultimate multi-tasking Bioengineer!