Termites might tear apart houses but Australian researchers say some species appear to help rainforests during drought.
Termites are the homeowners' enemy but the rainforests' friend, according to Australia researchers.
University of Western Australia biologists were among a group of international researchers to discover the critical role termites play to help tropical rainforest survive drought.
Published on Friday in leading journal Science, the peer-reviewed study shows termites' activity increases in drought time, with the insects munching on up to 40 per cent more leaf litter.
The excrement returns to the soil as nutrients, including nitrogen compounds, potassium and other metals.
That soil was 36 per cent wetter than outside their colony because the critters had brought ground water to the surface for their own survival.
The result of the termites' hard work? Seedling survival increased by 51 per cent, UWA Associate Professor Theodore Evans said.
He says termites were thought to be important due to their sheer quantity but had been hard to study given they mostly live underground.
"(The leaf litter findings) revealed that current models are underestimating the carbon flux into the atmosphere during drought periods," he said in a statement.
"The study provides further evidence about the importance of conserving important natural ecosystems by understanding their biology so we can protect them in a time of rapid environmental change."
UWA said the study was the first to measure the effects of termites in rainforests in reducing the impact of droughts on plants.
The study took place in two parts of the Bornean Forest during the 2015-16 El Nino drought with the termite population in one area artificially reduced.