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Ants could be Better than Pesticides for Growing Healthy Crops: New Research

Ants' role in agriculture is not entirely clear because they can be a nuisance. Pests such as mealybugs, aphids, and whiteflies, which produce a sugary liquid known as honeydew, are more common when ants are present.

Shivam Dwivedi

According to new research, ants may be more effective than pesticides in assisting farmers to produce food. According to the first systematic review of ants' contributions to crop production, they are better at killing pests, reducing plant damage, and increasing crop yields.

Ants are generalist predators that hunt pests that damage fruits, seeds, and leaves, causing crop yields to decline. According to the study, a greater diversity of ants provides more protection against a broader range of pests.

The study looked at 17 crops from countries such as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, including citrus, mango, apple, and soya bean. "In general, ants can be useful pest controls and increase crop yield over time with proper management." "Some ant species have comparable or higher efficacy than pesticides at lower costs," researchers wrote in a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Research Findings:

The Brazilian team examined 26 species, the majority of which were tree ants, which nest on plants or the ground but frequently climb plants. They discovered that ants thrive in diverse farming systems such as agroforestry (growing trees and crops on the same land) and shade-grown crops because there are more nesting sites and food resources.

"Our study encourages farmers to use more sustainable practices such as biological control provided by ants and practices of shaded crops as a way to naturally promote ants in crop systems," said lead researcher Dr Diego Anjos of the Federal University of Uberlandia.

Ants' role in agriculture is not entirely clear because they can be a nuisance. Pests such as mealybugs, aphids, and whiteflies, which produce a sugary liquid known as honeydew, are more common when ants are present. Because ants feed on honeydew, they effectively "farm" aphids like livestock, protecting them from predators in exchange.

According to the researchers, nature-friendly management practices such as providing an alternative source of sugars (on the ground, near the trunk, or on the branches of a tree) can disrupt this relationship. Because the ants are distracted, they can continue to control other pests such as caterpillars and beetles, which do not produce honeydew.

The paper examined the majority of insect species considered pests around the world, covering 30 species across 52 studies. The data came from studies that compared groups of plants with ants to plants where the ants were removed (mechanically or chemically), indicating that the ants were responsible for the observed changes.

Ants outnumber all other insects and account for half of all insect biomass on the planet. There are at least 14,000 species of ants known to science, with many more likely to be unknown. Ants have been used by citrus growers in China for centuries, and the insects have also been used to control forest pests in Canada, cocoa pests in Ghana, and crop pests in Nigeria.

According to research published in Nature, ants found on the Pacific Island of Fiji can cultivate and grow at least six plant species as part of a 3 million-year-old mutually beneficial relationship.

Dr. Patrick Milligan of the University of Nevada Pringle Lab, who was not involved in the study, called the findings "both heartening and not at all surprising." "They provide a neat and tidy description of ant-derived benefits that are ubiquitous across ecological and agricultural systems," he continued.

Greater flamingos in the wetlands of Malaga's Campillos lagoons. "This is essentially another option in our farming toolbox that can allow agriculture to move away from pesticides, which seriously harm neighbouring insect communities, while still improving crop yields."

Prof Adam Hart of the University of Gloucestershire, who was not involved in the study, said it confirmed the importance of ants as pest controllers. "Many of us have discussed ants as natural pest controllers. However, as with most things, it is usually more complicated than we realize once we start digging deeper. "The research suggests that moving ant colonies into crop areas and doing things to encourage the presence of ants may be profitable."

However, we must exercise caution because it is not true for all ants or crop systems, and there may be consequences. It's all about learning more about how ants interact with crop pests and other organisms. "A big take-home message for me is that we need to understand fine-scale interactions even more if we are to farm better." To put it another way, we need more ecologists."

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