The entomologists are correct (but of course, I learned it from them).
Carpenter ants, and most termites, live in wood already beginning to decay. The ants delve through the wood and carry it out. Termites actually eat the wood. I heard reports that Formosan termites will go through anything with cellulose.
As to being beneficial, I believe and have heard from one or two entomologists that the nests may tend to moderate the humidity in the wood and may slow the decay. That would depend on many other factors, however, like how close the nest is to the advance line of the decay, etc.
Since the wood is already decayed, the ant nests do little to affect structural strength of the tree. The only adverse affect of the nest is its proximity to wood structures and the increased possibility that winged females will find a suitable site for a new colony in someone’s house.
Russ Carlson, RCA, BCMA
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