This study examined the influence of soil type and moisture availability on termite foraging behavior. Physical properties of the soil affected both tunneling behavior and shelter tube construction. Termites tunneled through sand faster than top soil and clay. In containers with top soil and clay, termites built shelter tubes on the sides of the containers. In containers with sand, termites built shelter tubes directly into the air and covered the sides of the container with a layer of sand. The interaction of soil type and moisture availability affected termite movement, feeding, and survival. In assays with moist soils, termites were more likely to aggregate in top soil over potting soil and peat moss. However, termites were more likely to move into containers with dry peat moss and potting soil than containers with dry sand and clay. Termites were also significantly more likely to move into containers with dry potting soil than dry top soil. In the assay with dry soils, termite mortality was high even though termites were able to travel freely between moist sand and dry soil, possibly due to desiccation caused by contact with dry soil. Evaporation from potting soil and peat moss resulted in significant mortality, whereas termites were able to retain enough moisture in top soil, sand, and clay to survive for 25 d. The interaction of soil type and moisture availability influences the distribution of foraging termites in microhabitats.
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Vol. 103 • No. 3