Researchers estimate that there are 2.5 million ants for every human on the planet

The world’s human population is expected to exceed 8 billion in the coming months. Compared to ants, this is a mediocre milestone.

Researchers have made the most thorough assessment yet of the world’s ant population and the estimated total is a staggering 20 quadrillion of them, or about 2.5 million for every human.

This should come as no surprise given the ubiquity of these busy, social insects and the fact that they have thrived since the age of the dinosaurs, with the oldest known ant fossil dating from around 100 million years ago until recently. during the Cretaceous period.

“Ants certainly play a very central role in almost all terrestrial ecosystems,” said entomologist Patrick Schultheiss from the University of Würzburg in Germany and the University of Hong Kong, co-lead author of the published study. this week in the journal Proceedings of the National. Academy of Sciences.

“They are very important for nutrient cycling, decomposition processes, plant seed dispersal and soil disturbance. Ants are also an extremely diverse group of insects, with the different species performing a wide range of functions. But above all, it is their great abundance that makes them key ecological players,” Schultheiss said.

There are over 12,000 known species of ants, which are usually black, brown, or red in color and have three-part segmented bodies. Ranging in size from about four-hundredths of an inch (1 mm) to about 1.2 in (3 cm) long, ants typically inhabit soil, fallen leaves or decaying plants – and sometimes human kitchens .

Ants, whose closest relatives are bees and wasps, are native to almost everywhere on Earth, as any picnicker knows, with the exception of Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and some island nations.

“I was surprised that the biomass of ants was higher than that of wild mammals and birds combined, and that it reached 20% of the human biomass. This gives you an idea of ​​the magnitude of their impact,” said Sabine Nooten, insect ecologist and co-lead author of the study, also from the University of Würzburg and the University of Hong Kong.

“I find the enormous diversity of ants fascinating. They can be tiny or huge and show the most bizarre adaptations,” added Nooten, citing a widespread ant genus called Strumigenys, known for its long mouthparts with spikes used to hunt small invertebrates.

The researchers based their analysis on 489 studies of ant populations spanning every continent where the insects live.

“Our dataset represents a massive collection effort by thousands of scientists. We were then able to extrapolate the number of ants for different regions of the world and estimate their total global numbers and biomass,” Schultheiss said.

Tropical regions harbored many more ants than other regions, with forests and arid lands harboring more ants than urban areas.

“There are some parts of the world where we have little data and we cannot come up with reliable estimates for all continents. Africa is an example. We have known for a long time that this is a very ant-rich continent but also very understudied,” Schultheiss said.

Ants usually live in colonies, sometimes consisting of millions of them divided into groups with different roles such as workers, soldiers and queens. The workers, all female, tend to the larger queen and her offspring, maintain the nest and forage for food. The males mate with the queens and then die.

“Some ants can definitely be very annoying, but that’s a very human-centric perspective,” Schultheiss said.

“Most ants are actually very beneficial, even to us humans,” Schultheiss added. “Think of the amount of organic matter that 20 quadrillion ants transport, eliminate, recycle and eat. In fact, ants are so essential to the proper functioning of biological processes that they can be considered engineers of the ecosystem. the late ant scientist EO Wilson once called them “the little things that run the world”.

#Researchers #estimate #million #ants #human #planet

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.