Scientists calculated how many ants there are on earth

The estimate is two to 20 times higher than the previous ones, according to the study published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were very surprised by the sheer number of ants we found,” Sabine S. Nooten, an insect ecologist and interim principal investigator at the University of Würzburg in Germany, told CNN on Tuesday. He was a co-author of Nooten’s study.

“We had almost no hope, because the numbers that were circulating beforehand in the scientific literature were basically made up, and they had very little empirical data to work with,” he added. “And so this is the novelty of our research, because we have synthesized data from many empirical studies.”

He believed that the previous global estimates of the eminent biologists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson were roughly complete. According to research, 1% of the world’s 1 quintillion individual insect population.

However, the research team of this latest study based the new estimate on observational evidence from a large dataset of ant samples distributed around the world. The authors identified and evaluated 465 eligible studies, covering 1,306 sampling locations, covering all continents and major biomes inhabited by ants.

According to Nooten, scientists can use the entire research data set, spanning 80 years, to predict what future communities or environments might look like. For example, the team estimated the number of ants on earth to be around 3 billion, with tropical and subtropical regions such as the forests of South America being densely populated.

“We will be able to see changes over time in our dataset,” lead author Patrick Schultheiss, interim principal investigator at the University of Würzburg, told CNN. Schultheiss pointed out that changes in agriculture or the way forests are cut can affect the number of ants.

“No one has ever compiled a global dataset on ants,” Schultheiss said. He added that although we knew from research that the number of ants was very high in the tropical forests of West Africa compared to the Arctic regions, “we didn’t know what the picture was – how many there were”.

The abundance of ants roughly exceeds the combined biomass of birds and mammals — that is, the total mass — and is equivalent to about 20% of human biomass, according to the study.

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“I get asked a surprisingly common question: ‘How many ants are there on Earth?’ and while there are some estimates, none of the numbers they’re using are robust,” Adam Hart, a professor of science communication 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 research.

“This new study, based on nearly 500 studies from around the world, gives us the best answer yet to this difficult question. What’s surprising is not just the overall number, but the proportion of biomass represented by ants – one fifth of the biomass among all humans. It really highlights how important ants really are. “, he added.

Figure ‘conservative’

The global dataset can track environmental changes by analyzing changes in ant numbers.

The overall number calculated is almost impossible, but the study authors say it is “conservative”. This is because they could not collect all the data they wanted to include.

For example, many ants live underground, but no research was available that could tell how many there are, Schultheiss said. There are ants in the very far north and very far south, like the subantarctic region, but there was insufficient research on ants in these areas to make a mathematical estimate.

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Citizen scientists can fill in those gaps, according to Schultheiss, who said that non-scientists, even school students, can contribute effectively to the data set by collecting leaf litter, scooping up all the ants and counting how many there are.

“We hope to encourage people, first of all, to respect nature, to enjoy nature, because it is amazing what ants can do and on what scale. But also, if they are willing to contribute to science with a very simple method, “even very simple data can be of enormous value”, he added. .