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Closing the Loop

Ecosystem Engineers

Ants may be small, but they can have huge impacts on their environment. Because of the complex ways in which ants can disrupt, restore and reform the ecosystems they interact with, we call them ecosystem engineers.

Some ants, such as Army ants (referring to several different species), live a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place in search of food.

A single colony – sometimes as large as 15 million ants – can consume up to half a million prey animals a day.

Their foraging or ‘raiding’ trails can be up to 20m wide and over 100m long! It’s easy to see how this kind of interaction could dramatically change the population, diversity and behaviour of animals of affected habitats and ecosystems. Scientists have even observed flocks of birds following Army ant migrations, preying on the animals that flee nests and hiding spots to escape the approaching colony.

Colour photograph showing a thick line of ants moving across the ground. There are so many ants that you cannot distinguish one  from another.
A Colony of Army Ants

Other species of ants can help with seed dispersal, soil health and nutrient recycling, influencing the growth and diversity of a habitat in lots of different ways.

Ecologists study how ecosystems respond and recover from these kinds of interactions, which helps us to better understand the affects humans have on the environment too.