If you want to know about the health of ecosystems, a good place to start is with ants

The ghost ant is aptly named. All six of its legs, not to mention the ant’s antennae and abdomen, sport a spectral yellow — a pale hue that often fades into the background, leaving the ant’s tiny brown head and torso to bob along, barely visible, like a spirit in the breeze. Except the ghost ant is hardly a heavenly specter. It’s an earth-bound creature common across much of the globe, adapted so well to human habitats that it’s seen as a pest. In an abandoned field in Brazil, many ghost ants have made their home. A team of biologists, there as part of research on how old farmland for sugarcane — a tropical grass used to make sugar, rum and ethanol fuel — has recovered once it’s reforested with native plants, spotted these insects, and other ant species. In the plot, retired from sugarcane production just five years earlier, common denizens included ghost ants and fungus-farming Atta species, both of which also live in cities. The presence of these ants in that field tells scientists one part of a story about how the area’s environment is recovering from intensive agriculture. As stakeholders around the world look to rehabilitate ecosystems damaged by farming, mining and other activities, scientists are turning to ants — which play pivotal roles in most environments — to see exactly how effective restoration efforts are. Telling Ecological Secrets  Ants make good ecosystem indicators because they interact with many other species — for example by eating spiders or making nests that double as homes for microorganisms — and influence important processes like nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. They live just about everywhere except the polar regions. And their numbers are staggering. If you found a sufficiently large scale and weighed all the animals on Earth, ants would account for between 15 and 20 percent of that total biomass. Like other insects, ants reproduce quickly, cycling through generation after generation much faster than do mammals and other vertebrates. “Ants in general respond quite easily to changes in their environment, and in that sense they can be used as indicators for many other species groups as well,” says … Continue reading If you want to know about the health of ecosystems, a good place to start is with ants