Termites Can Reveal How Our Ancestors Migrated Across Earth

Termites Can Reveal How Our Ancestors Migrated Across Earth

Termites Can Reveal How Our Ancestors Migrated Across Earth

The regions of earth where modern termite species dwell has raised many interesting questions for scientists. Pinpointing modern termite habitats is not difficult. Scientists know where certain termite species exist today. However, signs of prehistoric termite activity have been discovered in regions where certain termite species are no longer located. In these situations it seems clear that certain termite species had, at some point, migrated to new regions of the globe where they are still active today. This is not necessarily unusual, as climatic conditions on earth have changed dramatically in the past. These past climatic changes have forced all animal species, living and extinct, to relocate to more hospitable environments. But you would not expect tiny insects to be capable of traveling great distances, especially over large bodies of water. The subterranean termite species known as Macrotermes gilvus is active in southeast Asia. At some point in the distant past, these termites managed to reach islands such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. So how did termites travel across the ocean? The answer to that question has also helped researchers understand how our human ancestors migrated to different parts of the world thousands, and even millions of years ago.

Today sea levels are much higher than they were when mankind’s early ancestors walked the earth. Due to lower sea levels, there once existed ancient land masses that connected modern islands with mainland continents. The Macrotermes gilvus termite species traveled these land masses to their farthest reaches over many thousands of years. These termites remained there after sea levels rose above the connective land masses. Researchers have recently found genetic evidence of these particular ancient termite migrations. Genetic markers in modern Macrotermes gilvus termites reveal the migratory routes taken by these termites when they dispersed two million years ago from a region that is now located in mainland Myanmar. Experts believe that our humanoid ancestors also took advantage of these land masses when searching for more agreeable habitats. These ancient land bridges have long been the go-to explanation for the modern existence of termites on islands. But only recently has this assumption been backed up by hard science.

Do you think it would have taken thousands of years and many generations of gradual travel for termites to reach areas of land that are now islands?