How do we Archive Superorganisms in Natural History Collections?

Archiving Superorganisms Termite Collections: Past, Present and Future

Termites (Blattodea: Termitoidae) live in colonies, and have complex social systems comprising of kings, queens, nymphs, soldiers and workers. They build elaborate nests, which provide vital functions for the success of the colony, including  reproduction, nourishment, protection and dispersal. It is for this reason that the termite colony has become analogous with the idea of it being a multicellular individual: a superorganism.

Ecologically, termites are the primary invertebrate decomposers of dead plant material in tropical and subtropical terrestrial ecosystems.  Recent research in the Soil Biodiversity Group has shown that termites may become even more important in a drying world, as they mitigate the ecological impacts of drought in tropical rainforests. Therefore, it is crucial to document and maintain excellent collections of termites, both biotic and abiotic elements.

In this talk, I presented data on the NHM termite collection and its complexities. As soft bodied individuals, termites must be stored in temperature controlled spirit collections. Termite mounds are dried and kept in temperature controlled cabinets and the nest collections are really useful when talking about termites to the general public. It is vital to have both of these components in a collection, as termite taxonomy uses morphological features of the soldier termite for identification of species, as well as the mound structure and geographical location.

In this talk, I evaluated:
(I) Past Collections: How and where did it begin?
(II) Existing collections: What shape are they in now?
(III) Future collections: How to maintain specimens and provide alternatives for the coming generations?

You can download a .pdf of my talk here: Archiving Superorganisms Termite Collections: Past, Present and Future