To say there are more ants than people on Earth would be a gross understatement. According to a new study, there are an estimated 2.5 million times more ants on this planet than humans.
In total, that’s 20 quadrillion – or 20,000,000,000,000,000 – ants.
A team of researchers from Australia, Germany and Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies that collected data on ground- and tree-dwelling ants in various habitats on all continents to arrive at the mind-boggling estimate. The research could help scientists understand the role ants play in ecosystems and provide a way to assess how these insects and others are affected by threats such as climate change.
“Our results provide a critical basis for examining environmental factors of ant abundance patterns and for tracking insects’ responses to environmental change,” the scientists wrote in the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. sciences.
The study also estimated that the total mass of ants on the planet amounts to about 12 megatons of dry carbon, a huge sum that points to their ubiquity, said Mark Wong, a Forrest Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia.
Taken together, the total mass of ants on the planet would actually outweigh all the world’s wild birds and mammals, he added.
“We found that there are literally tons of ants on Earth, which really underscores their ecological value,” Wong said in a statement.
Ants can be found in almost all habitats except the polar regions, according to the study. Forests and arid areas of the planet had the most ant species, while tropical zones had the highest density of ant populations, the researchers found.
“Our results show that ant numbers are highest in the tropics, including areas that face some of the strongest pressures from human disturbances and environmental change,” Wong said in the statement.
The scientists called the new estimate conservative and said more research is needed to assess the role ants play in their terrestrial ecosystems.
“Per hectare, ants move up to 13 tons of soil mass per year,” lead author Patrick Schultheiss, a biologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in a statement. As such, “they have a major impact on maintaining the nutrient cycle and also play a decisive role in plant seed dispersal.”
Previous studies had troubling prospects for the world’s insect populations. A series of studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2021 found that climate change, invasive species, light pollution, agricultural changes, and the use of insecticides and herbicides collectively reduce the loss of about 1% to 2 % of terrestrial insects per year.
A separate study published in April 2020 in the journal Science found that the planet has lost more than a quarter of its terrestrial insects in the past 30 years.
“Ants provide important ecological services — not just in natural systems, but in our farms, plantations, parks and cities — so it’s in our best interest to monitor populations and explore how they respond to warming climates,” Wong said.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com