Ants on leaves: According to the study, the insects can move up to 13 tons of soil per hectare per year
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Ants like to live in groups - but how many of the small insects there actually are has so far been an unsolved question.
Researchers have been working on the answer: According to a study, the earth is populated by an estimated 20 trillion ants.
Taken together, ants have a similar biomass to that of wild birds and mammals together, said lead author Patrick Schultheiss, according to a statement from the University of Würzburg.
That corresponds to twelve megatons of carbon.
For this number, the scientists evaluated 500 studies on the insects that had already been published and combined them in a database, as the University of Würzburg announced on Monday.
The study by a team led by the Würzburg scientists Patrick Schultheiss and Sabine Nooten was published in the journal »Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences«.
With the study, the researchers determined for the first time empirically how the ants are distributed in the various habitats of the world.
With the exception of the polar regions, they occur in almost all habitats.
The tropics therefore have the highest density of ants.
In addition to the climatic zone, the respective local ecosystem also plays an important role: forests and dry areas are home to the most ants, while there are significantly fewer ants in areas heavily influenced by humans.
The great importance of the number and distribution of ants is shown by the fact that ants can move up to 13 tons of earth per hectare per year.
"They have a major influence on the maintenance of the nutrient cycle and also play a crucial role in the dispersal of plant seeds," explained Schultheiss.
The influence of the ants can also be negative.
This applies, for example, to invasive species such as fire ants, which have a negative impact on local biodiversity and can cause considerable damage.