Fungal ants are a group of insects that depend on grown Fungus for their survival. In exchange for maintaining the fungal crops against pest and pathogens, providing stable growing conditions, and supplying nutritious fertilizers, ants keep receiving a stable food-supply.
These systems of fungal cultivation are an expression of a notable communal association that has improved the domestication of several fungal types of crops for over 60 million years. Therefore, the agricultural systems of men are weak in comparison with them as they were only about 10,000 years old.
An ERC funded research by the University of Copenhagen, shows that these ants may play a role in terms of agricultural skills. A long time ago, they seemingly overcame key cultivating issues that we haven’t solved yet. J Z. Shik, author and associate professor (Biology Department) at the University of Copenhagen explained:
The ants have succeeded to maintain an agricultural life-style through 60 million year of climatic change, and the leaf-cutter ants seem to be able to reproduce the same species in different habitats, ranging from grass-lands to rain forests. Moreover, these fungal ants also reduced the negative effects of agriculture on the environment occuring because of the use of chemicals.
While doing field research in Panama’s rain forests, he and the team at the Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research examined how ants use diet to compromise the strain’s increasingly specialized production benefits and its increased susceptibility to environmental variability.
The Clever Farmers: Fungal Ants
We humans have given our plants certain properties, taste, or texture, to obtain desired by-products.
However, these benefits of crop taming may also lead to increased sensitivity to environmental stresses from weather and pest, demanding increased pesticide and irrigation use. Biologically, we have weakened the plants in exchange for the desired taste, qualities, and harvest. J Z Shik explained:
“Ants seem to have found a similar compromise between crop susceptibility as their crops became more dedicated, but they also developed many clever methods that will last for millions of years. E.g., Ants became inspiring architects who often carried out complex air-conditioned excavations in underground chambers, to protect the fungus from the weather.”
In addition, these tiny creatures seem to be able to carefully regulate the amount of nutrients like nitrate used to grow plants.
To see how things went, Shik and researchers spent over a hundred-hours in the rain-forest next to anthills. Armed with nothing but tweezers, observing ant fights for survival, grabbing leaves and other food materials from returning ants from searching trips.
They did so when the snakes slipped through the leaf mat and the monkeys looked down at him from the treetops.
“For example, our food analyzes of plant substrates eaten by leaf-cutting ants show that they harvest leaves, fruit, and flowers from different rainforest trees ranging in hundreds. These plant substrata contain a rich mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, and other-nutrients such as zinc, sodium, and magnesium,” Shik explains. “This food blend can meet the specific nutritional needs of their fungal crop.
Significance of Clever Farmer
Ants can serve as an excellent option for communal association among crop plants to protect them from the harm of pathogens and pests. Ants can also improve soil air conditioning and increasing the fertility and texture of the soil.
Moreover, as the ultimate goal of researchers is to improve yield, scientists are now also trying to train honeybees like sniffer dogs to boost crop yield.
Source: Shik et al 2020.