20 quadrillion ants are still roaming, scientists calculate

When Mark Wong set out to analyze 489 entomological studies spanning every continent, major habitat, and biome on Earth, he had a simple goal: to count ants. The journey to the last north was long and often exhausting. Then, one day, Wong and fellow ant experts came out from the other side.

according to a new paper Published Monday in PNAS MagazineThe international team of scientists suggests that there are 20 quadrillion ants roaming our planet right now. 20,000,000,000,000,000 of the six-legged worker insects you catch are pollinating plants, scattered seed Like little gardeners and drooling after a toasted bagel.

“We further estimate that the world’s ants collectively make up about 12 megatons of dry carbon,” said Wong, an ecologist at the University of Western Australia’s School of Biological Sciences. “Impressively, this is more than the combined biomass of all the wild birds and mammals in the world.”

To put that staggering amount into perspective, multiply the team’s ant biomass estimate by five. The number you get is equal to the entirety of human biomass on Earth – and it could be a radical assessment. Each of the 489 global studies was quite intensive – employing hundreds of booby trap tactics such as tug-of-war ants running into tiny plastic container trenches and gently moving leaves to seek shelter in crunchy houses. But like most research efforts, the caveat remained.

For example, sampling locations, Wong explains, were unevenly distributed across geographic regions, and the vast majority were collected from the ground layer. “We have very little information about the number of ants in trees or underground,” he said. “This means that our findings are somewhat incomplete.”

Why worry about counting ants?

Despite their small size, ants have great strength.

In addition to tunneling into the ground for dinner and accidentally blooming from their leftovers, these buggers are integral to maintaining the delicate balance of our ecosystem. They are prey for larger animals, hunters of many others, soil churners and scavengers, to name a few of their admiration. So given their enormous amount that adorns the earth, they are a pretty big deal. “This vast majority of ants on Earth largely underscores their ecological value, as ants can punch above their own weight in providing key ecological functions,” Wong said.

but when it comes Calculation Ants in particular, as Wong did, create an urgency given the rate at which our climate is changing. Scientists must determine how many ants, as well as other animals and insects, are on Earth because the climate crisis – a threat exacerbated by human activity – is forcing global temperatures to rise and therefore putting these organisms at risk of extinction. putting in.

“We need to conduct rigorous and frequent surveys of people and describe them before they lose the ecological communities of different habitats,” Wong said, emphasizing that the team’s recent work provides an important baseline for ant populations. So we know how communities of these insects can change in tandem with a warming climate.

The worst-case scenario, not counting our fellow Earth friends, is sometimes called “black outOr anonymous extinction. It is only a concern that many species may disappear under the radar as the climate crisis worsens due to things like habitat loss or habitat loss.

Those animals on their way to extinction may not even be documented, let alone studied in detail.

In this regard, the team’s PNAS study begins with an apt quote from American biologist and ant expert Edward O. Wilson: “Ants make up two-thirds of the biomass of all insects. There are millions of species of organisms and we know approx. Nothing about them.”

Going forward, this is why Wong believes it is important to regularly survey ant populations, and even speed up the process by outsourcing them to anyone who is and is willing to participate. Doing. “Things like counting ants,” he said, “taking pictures of insects they find in their backyards and taking into account observations of interesting things that plants and animals are doing can go a long way.

“It would be great – as the eminent ant biologist EO Wilson once proposed – just ‘more boots on the ground.'”

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