As Termite Range Expands, Half of Structures in South Florida May Be at Risk by 2040

Reproductives, soldiers and workers of Coptotermes gestroi. Photo by Rudolf H. Scheffrahn.

Asian and Formosan subterranean termites cause about $40 billion a year in structural damage globally, and researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences predict these pests will dramatically increase their impact in the next two decades in South Florida.

They estimate that subterranean termite activity will expand, meaning half the structures in South Florida will be at risk of infestation by subterranean termites by 2040. Assistant Researcher Thomas Chouvenc, Distinguished Professor Nan-Yao Su, and Professor Rudy Scheffrahn will publish their new study this summer.

Six invasive termite species are now established in Florida, but just three cause most of the structural damage: the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus), the Asian subterranean termite (Coptotermes gestroi), and the West Indian drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis).

For their study, the researchers estimated the geographic spread of the two subterranean termite species in South Florida by using records of specimens collected between 1985 and 2015 at the UF Termite Collection at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

For each year of the study period — 1990 to 2015 — the researchers estimated that any structure within a 500-meter radius from any recorded Asian subterranean or Formosan termite would be at risk of infestation.

Since 1990, these two types of termites have expanded their range considerably in Florida because of how far they fly and because more and more people move termite-infested material. As a result, the number of infested structures has increased exponentially.

In addition, it is possible that that these two species may hybridize, which was documented in a study last year.

“If their activity increases, the risk for species interaction and hybridization may also increase,” Dr. Chouvenc said.

UF/IFAS recently released an interactive map, below, on which Florida residents can see the termite activity in their areas. Monitoring for termite damage or activity is an important first step, and the researchers encourage people to send them termite samples for identification.

The purple triangles indicate West Indian drywood termites (Cryptotermes brevis), the yellow circles indicate Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus), and the red circles indicate Asian subterranean termites (Coptotermes gestroi). For a larger interactive map that shows the distribution of even more species, click here.

Their article, “Establishment and spread of two invasive subterranean termite species (Coptotermes formosanus and C. gestroi) in metropolitan Southeastern Florida (1990-2015),” will be published in June 2016 in the journal Florida Entomologist.

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