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Earth’s ant population of 20 quadrillion outnumbers humans by 2.5 million times, study finds

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

In total, there are 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 ground and tree-dwelling ants in different habitats across all continents to come up with a mind-boggling estimate. The research could help scientists understand the role ants play in ecosystems and provide a way to assess how these insects and others are affected by threats like climate change.

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

The study also estimated that the total mass of ants on the planet is equivalent to about 12 megatons of dry carbon, a huge sum that suggests their ubiquity, said Mark Wong, a Forrest fellow in Western University’s School of Biological Sciences. Australia.

Taken together, the total mass of ants on the planet would actually outnumber all wild birds and mammals in the world, he added.

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

Jorge Villalba / Getty Images / iStockphoto

The ants can be found in almost all habitats except the polar regions, according to the study. Forests and arid parts of the planet had the highest number of ant specimens, while tropical areas had the highest density of ant populations, the researchers found.

“Our results show that ant numbers are highest in the tropics, which include 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 their terrestrial ecosystems.

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

Previous studies have had worrying prospects 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 are collectively causing the loss of about 1% to 2% of 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 land-based insects 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 interest to monitor populations and investigate how they are responding to warmer weather,” Wong said.

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