Flickr | Carlows

Ants Are Teaching Humans To Be Better Farmers

Did you know that some ants farm fungus? In fact, ants have been farming longer than humans. Leafcutter ants started farming in the South American rainforest over 50 million years ago. There is even evidence that leafcutting ants have domesticated many of their crops! The fungus that they cultivate has more genes that promote growth than the wild varieties.

Ant farmers face many of the same challenges that human farmers do.

If we want to continue to prosper as long as ants have, there is probably a lot that they can teach us. One common problem is yield trade-offs. Domesticated crops grow greater yields, but the crops are more sensitive to environmental factors.

Domestic crops are less resilient than their wild cousins.

Human farmers have come to depend on pesticides and irrigation and fertilizers to protect domesticated crops. Ants also fertilize their crops. They collect nutrients from the surrounding forest to fertilize the fungus.

The ants are quite selective about their fertilizers.

They seem to understand the nutritional requirements of their crops. When researchers gave ants the option between different food sources, they chose the one best suited to the fungus' nutritional requirements.

Ant and human farmers seem to have similar knowledge of their crops.

Jonothan Shik, who studies ant farmers, told Cosmos:

“Human farmers know exactly what the fundamental niche of corn is and can target this using specific fertilisers. The ants appear to know the same thing, surviving by satisfying the nutritional needs of their fungus crops.”

Unlike humans, ants are not over-dependent on fertilizers and other chemicals.

Ants also developed climate control strategies. Shik explained:

“For example, they became impressive architects, often excavating sophisticated and climate controlled subterranean growth chambers where they can protect their fungus from the elements.”

There are 250 different species of farming ants.

The ants evolved diverse agricultural practices. Each colony can help us better understand successful organic farming practices. Ant diversity and subsistence farming practices seem to make them more not less resilient. Our food industry is moving in the opposite direction. We have low crop diversity and growing food insecurity. It appears we have a lot to learn from these ants.

h/t: Cosmos

Filed Under: