Biomass collapse and its associated microclimatic stresses within recently isolated rain forest fragments may negatively affect species diversity of most resident taxa. However, for some decomposer organisms, increased resource availability via accompanying tree die-off may effect positive responses, at least for a time, with implications for rates of nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas release. This study investigates the early effects of forest fragmentation on a Neotropical termite assemblage. Numbers of encounters (surrogate for relative abundance) and species richness of wood and leaf-litter feeders, soil feeders, and the whole assemblage, were studied across true forest islands and mainland sites at a hydroelectric reservoir in French Guiana. Results showed no overall effect of fragmentation on either total termite encounters or species richness. However, numbers of encounters and species richness of wood and leaf-litter feeders showed positive responses to forest fragmentation. By contrast, soil feeders showed a negative response for numbers of encounters and no significant effect for species richness. Environmental data suggest that increased tree die-off, and other edge effects associated with biomass collapse, were underway at the time of sampling. Resulting increase in resource availability may therefore explain the positive influence on wood and leaf- litter feeders. A possible decrease in predation pressure from ants with decrease in island size was not tested for, but was a likely effect of the flooded matrix habitat. Fragmentation effects on soil feeder encounters may be due to the energetic and microclimatic constraints of feeding lower down the humification gradient of termite food substrates, but were not sufficient to affect species richness. The patterns revealed suggest that rates of wood decomposition following tree die- off, and of soil nutrient cycling, under different rain forest fragmentation scenarios, merit further study.
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