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J Insect Physiol. 1997 Aug;43(8):749-758.

On the respiratory quotient (RQ) of termites (Insecta: Isoptera).

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Biodiversity Division, Entomology Department, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, U.K.


The respiratory quotient (RQ) at 28 degrees C was determined by Warburg manometry in 23 species of termites from the Mbalmayo Forest Reserve (Cameroon) and three sub-tropical species cultured under laboratory conditions in the U.K. or freshly collected in Australia. The data are tabulated with other recently reported RQs (determined by manometry or GC) and with measured CH(4) emission rates to provide a survey of 29 species covering both lower and higher termites in all major trophic (functional) categories. In all species, except the wood-feeding Coptotermes acinaciformis and the soil-feeding Cubitermes fungifaber, the observed mean values (with manometry corrected for known fluxes of H(2) and CH(4)) were at or well above 1.00. Soil-feeding forms (except C. fungifaber) generally showed a high apparent RQ (not corrected for H(2)), with nine species (out of 13) above 1.20 and six species above 1.30. Well-replicated laboratory experiments with Reticulitermes lucifugus showed that there was a tendency for RQ to fall with time over a 4-h incubation, although remaining greater than 1.00.The observed RQs are consistent with carbohydrate being the principal substrate supporting respiration in all trophic and taxonomic categories, with little or no contribution from the degradation of lignin or other polyaromatic materials. However, in many species (especially soil-feeders), the observed RQ is greater than that expected from known fluxes of O(2), CO(2) and CH(4) on the assumption that carbohydrate is the respiratory substrate. This presupposes that there is a large hydrogen sink (additional to CH(4) production), possibly the emission of H(2) gas, and/or the existence of unresolved digestive mechanisms or electron routings. Uncertainties in the use of manometry with termites are discussed.

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