Ants are the fascination of all of us. These tiny creatures, with their working group strategies, make us curious. And if you are excited to know what ants do for the environment, hold on.
Here in this article, we will discuss our favorite, often-seen insect — The ant. We will study some common facts about them and their role in the environment. Let’s dig deeper!
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Fascinating Facts About Ants
There are about 15,000 species of ants in this world. We can call ants ecosystem engineers. This is simply because of their architectural skills to build fortresses under the soil.
Did you know? studies found that ants are 140 million years old creatures? And they might have evolved from wasp-like organisms.
While bringing food from one place to another, you might wonder how they communicate with each other? Is there any language?
Several studies indicate that ants communicate through chemicals, and they are the master of decision making. It is fascinating that these tiny creatures have a complex level of observation skills.
Through collaborations, ants can perform any work. And they can lift weights 100X times higher than their mass.
Research on ants shows ants are tiny insects with a high level of cognitive ability. They can process information rapidly and make intelligent choices from observing and learning about several background information.
Furthermore, a study performed by Stanford University shows that ants have a complex algorithm to process and transmit information for different labor work. In other words, this complex algorithm is called the internet of ants — Anternet.
What Do Ants Do for The Environment?
The following are some of the functions ants perform to help the environment.
Helps In Aeration of The Soil
Ants are incredibly efficient in agriculture and crop production. No doubt, ants live under the earth with their three-dimensional creations. And they help our environment by providing contributions to agriculture.
Ants do good to the environment by aeration of the soil. They contribute to creating pores in the ground that helps nutrients, water, and oxygen to travel along inside the earth. You might be wondering how? By showing their architectural skills: digging tunnels.
Further, a study on ants role in sustainable agriculture explains how harvesters and leaf-cutter ants depend more than 90% on plant saps for energy. And also, they take part in maintaining the C/N ratio in their atmosphere which helps plants in their growth.
Improve Soil Quality
Besides aeration, ants also help the environment by improving soil quality.
Soil quality means the number of organic nutrients present in the soil that helps crops and plants grow smoothly.
By foraging food materials in their nests, Ants supply outside nutrients to the soil, improving fertility.
Foraging is a process of searching for food by creatures. Ants use this technique to detect decaying organic materials and bring them under earth nests.
Disperse The Seeds of Plants
Ants get attracted by the lipid-rich seed materials — elaiosome. And they disperse the seeds more profound into the soil or distribute the elaiosome-rich seeds throughout the earth. This process of secondary dispersal of seeds is termed Myrmecochory.
However, research has found that the dispersal of seeds depends on the composition of the fatty acids-rich elaiosome. Further, the level of dispersal varies from one ant species to another.
Yet, this type of help to the environment by ants works as a miracle in the germination process.
Further, as ants bring the seeds to their nests where nitrogen is more affluent than other parts of the soil, the seed germination rate improves.
Manage Pests Efficiently
Ants are predators of many organisms, including some plant pathogens.
They tend to serve the plants by eating the eggs and larvae of the pests.
Some ant species like Formica rufa are primarily relying on plant-based foods. Their diet includes resins, fungi, honeydew, carrion, and seeds. And a fraction (about 33%) of their diet includes other insects.
Such ants live with plants in a symbiotic relationship. The plants provide food materials to the ants, and in exchange, the ants protect the plants from pests and pathogens.
Acts As Bioindicators
Another way ants help the environment is by acting as bioindicators while studying soil and other environmental factors.
Due to various natural and anthropological impacts, the soil is continuously degrading. And to study and conserve this type of environmental resource, we need some bioindicators. And ants solve that problem for us.
Not all ants are included inside the soil biota. They are often known as microfauna which belongs to anecic or epigeic groups among the three types of soil biota. And through their living inside the soil, they act as bioindicators.
Take Part in Decomposition
Ants have a significant role in decomposing carcasses (the dead body of animals). Specifically, the most common species which are effective decomposers are Formicinae. Such ants are wood ant species, carpenter ants, winter ants, and black ants.
Ants, through their mandibles, chew or cut dead animal materials and help the environment in clearing the decaying bodies. We study this process as necrophagy (feeding on dead tissues). Such behaviors are primarily seen in 14 types of ant species.
A Considerable Role in The Food Web
Ants affect the food web in an ecosystem in various manners. Firstly, it provides food to the local organism through its tunnel building and food transport activities.
Due to the presence of ants, the organic materials within the soil act as food for other soil-living organisms.
Further, ants act as both predators and prey in a food chain. In the role of a predator, they hunt for small to large creatures. Ants are super aggressive and territorial in nature, as per the author of a study.
Further, according to a review on the role of ants in the grassland ecosystem, ants have a direct and indirect influence on the arthropod population.
Their activities towards plant-based food materials impact the population of other animals in the ecosystem.
Ants are eusocial organisms with lots of fascinating features. Their creativity, critical thinking, and division of labor are a few factors that create curiosity among us.
Starting from their role in agriculture and plant growth to the vitality inside the food web, ants do good to the environment in various manners.
Here we discussed some crucial facts about ants and their critical function in the ecosystem.
However, due to the increased climate change issues, some habitats of ants are also disturbed. And that reminds us to take individual and collaborative efforts to bring back our natural environmental state.