FunNature & AnimalCalculate the number of ants on Earth

# Calculate the number of ants on Earth

It is not the first time that scientists have tried to count the number of ants that inhabit the Earth, but this seems to be the study that comes closest to reality, and the result is that we share the planet with some 20,000 billion of these insects. . If we humans are about 8 billion individuals, they are a 20 followed by 15 zeros.

Knowing the approximate number of these insects is not a minor matter, although it may seem so at first, because these small animals participate in maintaining the nutrient cycle and are involved in the distribution of seeds .

The study, led by two biologists from the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg, in Germany, has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( PNAS ). To carry out the insect count, the scientists reviewed a large number of previous studies . Ultimately they were left with about 500 articles, which they combined into a database.

Ants are known to be found in almost all habitats, except at the poles. This study has been the first to empirically investigate how they are distributed in the extreme zones. It has also confirmed that forests and arid regions are the places where the most ants are found . Where there is less is in places where there is a lot of human presence.

The researchers believe that future studies should look at what environmental influences affect precisely how ants are distributed around the planet, and whether (and to what extent) this will change as a result of climate change.

The authors have counted some 20,000 billion ants worldwide. To give us a clearer idea of the amount noted, it would be as if for every person on Earth there were 2.5 million ants. The total weight of these insects “exceeds the combined biomass of wild birds and mammals and corresponds to approximately 20% of the biomass of humanity ,” explains Patrick Schultheiss, one of the authors, in a statement issued by the university.

Despite having given this specific figure, the researchers acknowledge in their study that the number of insects is probably higher. At the moment more than 15,700 species and subspecies of ants are known and it is likely that an equivalent number remains undiscovered. “It is of the utmost importance that we fill in these remaining gaps to achieve a complete picture of insect diversity,” say the study leaders.

And what is the point of counting ants or checking which habitats are their favorites and which hardly make an appearance? In the same statement published by the German university, Schultheiss states that “per hectare, ants move up to 13 tons of soil mass per year , so they have a great influence on maintaining the nutrient cycle and also play a decisive role in the distribution of plant seeds”. However, not all insects have a positive impact on the environment. Schultheiss cites in the statement fire ants, an invasive species that can alter the biodiversity of the area and cause significant damage.

Referencia: Schultheiss, P., Nooten, S. et al. The abundance, biomass, and distribution of ants on Earth. 2022. PNAS. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2201550119

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