World’s ant population of 20 quadrillion outnumbers 2.5 million people, study says

To say that there are more ants on Earth would be a huge understatement. According to a new study, there are an estimated 2.5 million times more ants on this planet than humans.

In total, that’s 20 quadrillion – or 20,000,000,000,000,000 – ants.

A team of researchers from Australia, Germany and Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies that collected data on ants on the ground and in trees in different habitats across the continent to arrive at the mind-bending estimate. The research could help scientists understand the role of ants in ecosystems and provide a way to assess the impact of threats such as climate change on these and other insects.

“Our results provide a critical baseline for exploring environmental drivers of resistance abundance patterns and for tracking insect responses to environmental change,” the scientists wrote in the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings National Academy of Sciences.

The study also estimated that the total mass of ants on the planet works to about 12 megawatts of dry carbon, a huge amount that suggests its ubiquity, said Mark Wong, Forrest Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at Western University. Australia.

When combined, the total mass of ants on the planet would be greater than all the wild birds and mammals of the world, he said.

“​​​​​​​We found that there are literally tons of ants on Earth, which really emphasizes their ecological value,” Wong said in a statement.

A group of ants walking on a cable (Jorge Villalba / Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Ants are found in almost all habitats except in polar regions, according to the study. Forests and arid parts of the planet had the most specimens of ants, and tropical zones had the highest density of ant populations, the researchers found.

“Our results show that ant populations are highest in the tropics, including areas facing some of the strongest pressures from human disturbance and environmental change,” Wong said in the statement.

The scientists called the new estimate conservative and said more research is needed to assess the role ants play in terrestrial ecosystems.

“Per hectare, ants move up to 13 tons of soil mass per year,” study lead author Patrick Schultheiss, a biologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in a statement. Therefore, “they have a major impact on maintaining the nutrient cycle and also play a decisive role in the distribution of plant seeds.”

Previous studies have had worrying predictions for the world’s insect populations. A series of studies published in January 2021 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that climate change, invasive species, light pollution, changes in agriculture and the use of insecticides and herbicides together are causing a loss of about 1% to 2%. of the Earth’s insects each year.

A separate study published in April 2020 in the journal Science found that the planet has lost more than a quarter of its insects that live on earth in the last 30 years.

“Ants provide key ecological services – not only in natural systems but also in our farms, plantations, parks and cities – so it is in our best interests to monitor populations and investigate how they are responding to warming climate,” Wong said.

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