Ants, more effective than pesticides!

Often referred to as harmful insects in agriculture, ants can nevertheless be used in biological control of crop pests. A recent study published in August 2022 sheds light on their regulatory role.

Ants are valuable allies of farmers

Ants belong to the Formicidae family. They are the most numerous insects on our planet with more than a quadrillion individuals! Small and numerous, ants contribute to the proper functioning of ecosystems. First of all, they are outstanding cleaners of the environment. Ants are capable of decomposing all kinds of organic matter (dead animals, plants, etc.). In addition, their role in soil aeration is fundamental: they dig galleries and transport particles. Earthworms are not the only soil engineers! An equally important role of ants is predation of parasites. This is also the subject of research into the contributions of ants to the regulation of diseases and parasites of agricultural crops.

Fight against diseases

According to a recent study published in Proceedings of Royal Society B, ants are as effective as, or even more effective than, pesticides. The researchers analyzed the results of 28 studies spread across 15 different countries. In total, 30 species of parasites and 26 species of ants were studied. These are capable of killing a wide range of pests, thereby reducing crop damage.

The study did not underestimate the negative aspect due to the multitude of ants in agricultural plots. Ants, as predators, can cause a reduction in populations of pollinators and crop beneficials. They can also transport pathogens within crops. However, the study highlights that the benefits brought by the presence of ants outweigh the disadvantages. Thus, certain species of ants are more effective than pesticides in reducing pests. Particularly Mediterranean red ants (Pheidole pallidula), black garden ants (Lasius niger) and Iberian peninsula ants (Lasius grandis) are the most abundant in regulating pathogens in 13 types of crops such as cocoa, citrus fruits, mangoes and apples.

Another observation from the study: the greater the diversity of ant species, the more the regulation concerns a wide range of parasites. Nature leaves no doubt, diversity is the key to a healthy ecosystem. This is why the biological fight against pathogens cannot be restricted to ants. Every living being has a role. The decline of one species often leads to the proliferation of another, which unbalances the entire ecosystem. And agriculture can suffer the consequences.

Hedges to accommodate ants

If the presence of ants is essential, it is still necessary to be able to offer them a suitable habitat. The study showed that ants are more efficient when they are in shady places and particularly in agroecological systems. Planting trees near or within crops helps optimize the regulation of pathogens and increase the biodiversity of the environment. Certain conditions must be respected so that the ants can play their roles. Appropriate management means, above all, respecting the structure of the soil so that ants can hibernate in the winter. Anthills also take place in dead wood. The presence of living or dead trees should not be neglected! The latter are useful for feeding the ants but they return the favor to the trees. Some ants (wood ants) are predators of tree pests such as the bark beetle which ravages Eastern forests. Wood ants are also protected in France and classified in the red list of threatened species.

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