The importance of accurate termite taxonomy in the broader perspective of termite management
  Key Words  
  C. havilandi, Southeast Asia, identification, urban pests
  L.G. Kirton
  The species of termites that have an impact on urban dwellings in Southeast Asia are reviewed. Termites of the genus Coptotermes are considered, by far, to have the greatest economic impact on urban dwellings. In Peninsular Malaysia, where the species of Coptotermes have been relatively well studied, five species are known, of which one, the Asian Subterranean Termite (Coptotermes gestroi), is responsible for most of the damage to wood in buildings in urban areas. Correct recognition of the pest species of Coptotermes originating from Southeast Asia has been largely hampered by confusion over the identity of the primary pest species, due to long-standing confusion in the literature on these species and the difficult taxonomy of the genus. It has been recently shown that there is a single primary pest species of Coptotermes, that is, C. gestroi, and not three, as previously thought, occurring from northeast India through Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago. As a result, the species once known as C. havilandi, thought to have been introduced from this region to North America, Brazil and various other countries, should be known as C. gestroi. In addition, contrary to what was previously thought, C. havilandi is now known to be a forest dwelling species that has not been recorded infesting buildings in Peninsular Malaysia or other areas in which it occurs. The true pest species in these geographical areas is C. gestroi, which was previously thought to occur only in Thailand, Burma and northeast India. Uncertainties continue to exist as to the status of a number of very similar species of C. havilandi, such as C. vastator in the Philippines and C. heimi in India. In addition, a number of species descriptions in older literature may eventually prove to be based on species better known now by a different name. These problems pose difficulties for researchers and practitioners in the field of termite management. However, the benefits of fundamental research on the identities of the various termite pest species occurring in the region are clearly exemplified in the case of Asian Subterranean Termite. The paradox of inconsistencies in the economic impact of the three supposed species in different parts of the world was resolved with the recognition of a single species. As a result of the findings, scientists and industry alike are now able to work toward common solutions to a single pest problem occurring in most of the Southeast Asian region, as well as in countries to which it was introduced.