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ants Small in size but not in number. A new study estimates that there are about 20 quadrillion ants on Earth at any one time. That’s 20,000 trillion people.
The estimate is 2 to 20 times higher of previous studies, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
“We were very surprised by the large number of ants that we found,” Sabine S. Naughten, an insect ecologist and interim principal investigator at the University of Würzburg in Germany, told CNN on Tuesday. Nooten was a co-author on the study.
“We had almost no expectations because the numbers put forward previously in the scientific literature were essentially educated guesses, and they had very little empirical data to work from,” she added. “So, this is the novelty of our study because we’ve pooled data from a lot of empirical studies.”
The previous global estimate of between 1 quadrillion and 10 quadrillion ants was postulated by famous biologists Bert Holdendobler and Edward O. 1% of the world’s insect population is estimated at 1 quintillion individuals, according to the study.
However, in this latest study, the research team based the new estimate on observational evidence from a wide data set of globally distributed ant samples. The authors identified and evaluated 465 appropriate studies, including 1,306 sampling sites, covering all continents and major biomes in which ants live.
Scientists can use the study’s extensive data set, spanning 80 years, to predict what future societies or environments might look like, according to Naughton. For example, the team estimated the number of land-dwelling ants, which dwell densely in tropical and subtropical regions, such as the forests of South America, at about 3 quadrillion.
“We may actually be able to see change over time in our data set,” co-lead author Patrick Schulthes, an interim principal investigator at the University of Würzburg, told CNN. Schulthes highlighted that changes in farming or the way trees were cut down could have an impact on the ant population.
“No one has ever compiled a data set on ants on a global scale,” Schulthes said. He added that while they learned from studies that ant numbers were very high in the tropical forests of West Africa compared to Arctic regions, “we didn’t know what the picture was – how many are there.”
The estimated abundance of ants exceeds the combined biomass — that is, the total mass — of birds and land mammals and is equivalent to about 20% of human biomass, according to the study.
A surprisingly common question I get asked is ‘How many ants are on Earth? Although there are some estimates, none of the numbers used were robust,” Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, England, told CNN. Hart, who is also vice president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society, did not share In the study.
“This new study, based on nearly 500 studies worldwide, gives us the best answer to date on this difficult question. The amazing thing is not just the total number, but the percentage of biomass that ants represent – a fifth of the biomass of all humans. It confirms Really how important ants really are.”
The estimated total number is almost unimaginably huge, but the study authors said it was “conservative.” This is because they couldn’t collect all the data they wanted to include.
For example, many ants live underground, but there are no available studies that can provide numbers for the number of ants, Schulthes said. Ants are found in the far north and far south, such as Antarctica area, but there were not enough studies of ants in those areas to make a mathematical estimate.
Citizen scientists can fill in these gaps, according to Schulthes, who said that non-scientists, even school students, can contribute to the dataset in an impressive way simply by collecting leaf waste, taking out all the ants and counting the number found.
“We hope to inspire people, first and foremost 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 in a very simple way, even very simple data can be It has tremendous value.”