Termites’ success as a group has led to them colonizing almost every global landmass, with the highest diversity occurring in the tropics where they are estimated to constitute 10% of the biomass, particularly in Africa which has the richest diversity with more than 1000 described species. They are important decomposers of decaying plant matter in the subtropical and tropical regions of the world, and their recycling of wood and plant matter is of considerable ecological importance. Many species are ecosystem engineers capable of altering soil characteristics such as hydrology, decomposition, nutrient cycling, vegetative growth, and consequently surrounding biodiversity through the large mounds constructed by certain species.
Termites have several impacts on humans. They are a delicacy in the diet of some human cultures such as the Makiritare in the Alto Orinoco province of Venezuela, where they are commonly used as a spice. They are also used in traditional medicinal treatments of various diseases and ailments, such as influenza, asthma, bronchitis, etc. Termites are most famous for being structural pests, however, the vast majority of termite species are innocuous, with the regional numbers of economically significant species being: North America, 9; Australia, 16; Indian subcontinent, 26; tropical Africa, 24; Central America and the West Indies, 17. Of known pest species, 28 of the most invasive and structurally damaging belong to the genus Coptotermes. The distribution of most known pest species is expected to increase over time as a consequence of climate change.