“We were very surprised about the large numbers of ants,” Sabine S. Knuten, an insect ecologist and provisional principal investigator at the University of Würzburg in Germany, told CNN on Tuesday. Knuten was the study’s co-lead author.
“We had virtually no hope because the numbers that were already floating around in the scientific literature were basically educated guesses, and there was little empirical data to work with,” he said. “And, therefore, this is the novelty of our study because we synthesized data from a lot of empirical studies.”
Previous global estimates of between 1 quadrillion and 10 quadrillion ants by renowned biologists Burt Holdobler and Edward O’Wilson assumed that they had almost made According to the study, 1% of the world’s estimated insect population of 1 quintal individuals.
However, the research team of this latest study based new inference on observational evidence from a comprehensive data set of globally distributed ant specimens. The authors identified and evaluated 465 suitable studies, covering 1,306 sampling locations, including all continents and major biomes where ants live.
Scientists can use the study’s extensive data set, which spans 80 years, to predict what a future community or environment might look like, according to Knuten. For example, the team estimated the number of land-dwelling ants, which are densely populated in tropical and subtropical regions such as South American forests, to about 3 quadrillion.
“Nobody has ever assembled a data set on ants on a global scale,” Schulthis said. He said that while they knew from studies that there were much higher numbers of ants in the tropical forests of West Africa than in regions of the Arctic, “we didn’t know what the picture was—what the numbers were.”
According to the study, the estimated abundance of ants exceeds the combined biomass – that is, the total mass – of wild birds and mammals and is equivalent to about 20% of human biomass.
“A surprisingly common question I get asked is ‘How many ants are there on Earth?’ And although there are some estimates, none of the numbers being used felt strong,” Adam Hart, professor of science communications at the University of Gloucestershire in England, told CNN. Hart, who is also vice president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society, was not involved in the study.
“This new study, based on nearly 500 studies around the world, gives us the best answer to this tricky question. The surprising thing is not just the overall number, but the proportion of biomass that ants represent – one-fifth of the biomass of all humans. It really underscores how important ants really are,” he said.
a ‘conservative’ figure
The estimated total number is almost unimaginably huge, but the study authors said it is “conservative.” This is because they could not collect all the data they wanted to include.
For example, many ants live underground, but there were no studies available that could provide numbers as to how many, Schulthis said. There are ants in the far north and far south, such as the sub-Antarctic areas, but there were not enough studies of ants in those areas to make mathematical estimates.
Citizen scientists can fill in these gaps, according to Schultheis, who said that non-scientists, even school students, can be impressive by simply collecting leaf litter, taking out all the ants, and counting how many there are. ways can contribute to the data set.
“We hope to inspire people first to respect nature, to enjoy nature, because it’s amazing what ants can do and on what scale. But, if they could use a very simple method in science are willing to contribute with, even very simple data can have enormous value,” he said.