‘It’s Deeply Disconcerting’: Scientists Are Raising Concerns About Phenomenon In Non-Native Ant Species Across the Globe

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Jul 08, 2024

A new invasive species is taking over the world. Non-native ants introduced to new areas of the world are causing a massive disruption in biodiversity and biogeographical patterns.

Scientists now worry about the implications of these disruptions caused by the non-native ants, altering biogeographical patterns that have evolved over millions of years.

What Are Invasive Species? 

Invasive alien species are animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms that have established themselves in environments outside of their natural habitat.

A close up of an ant on the soil

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These species can have a devastating effect on native plants and animal life, causing a decline or extinction of native species.

The Impact of Invasive Ant Species

Scientists worldwide are studying the distribution patterns and impacts of 309 non-native ant species that human activity has transported.

Macro Photo of Five Orange Ants

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This research examines the non-native ant species that are breaking down biogeographic boundaries around the globe.

The Consequences of Human Activity

The study, published in Nature Communications by the Department of Ecology and Evolution at UNIL, highlights the alteration of nearly 170 years of historical distribution, especially in tropical regions and islands.

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Celo Bertelsmeier, Lucie Aulus-Giacosa, and Sébastien Ollier, respectively an associate professor, a postdoctoral researcher, and a biostatistician in the Department of Ecology and Evolution in the Faculty of Biology and Medicine at UNIL, studied the far-reaching consequences of human activity.

Focusing on the Taxonomic Group’s Impact

“Investigations into the impact of non-native species on biogeography have predominantly focused on gastropods in prior research,” Aulus-Giacosa, the lead author of the study said (via SciTechDaily).

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Aulus-Giacosa continued: “However, our study breaks new ground by focusing on ant species that are insects, a taxonomic group estimated to encompass a staggering 70 percent of the Earth’s living animal mass.”

The Erosion of Borders 

The study found that 2 percent of the species’ movements have caused the erosion of borders, resulting in the redrawing of the distribution map for the insects.

A close up of the face of an ant

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“It’s deeply disconcerting to acknowledge that within a mere 200 years of human influence, we’ve managed to completely overhaul patterns shaped by 120 million years of ant evolution,” Bertelsmeier said.


The Fight to Maintain Biodiversity 

Maintaining biodiversity is extremely important for the Earth’s health. In any given ecosystem, plants and animals actively contribute to its health and functioning, sustaining a cycle that native species can maintain.

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Monitoring the health of biodiversity worldwide helps communities combat global warming and address environmental issues.


Biodiversities Impact on Climate Change

One study found that nature can help provide more than 30 percent of the pollution reduction needed by 2030 to help avoid climate catastrophe.

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However, those ecosystems are struggling to maintain their cycle as new, non-native species thrive, taking over the cycle completely.


The Fate of the World

The biodiversity crisis has put around 1 million plants, animals, and other living things at risk of extinction due to these tiny ants.

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“It’s deeply disconcerting to acknowledge that within a mere 200 years of human influence, we’ve managed to completely overhaul patterns shaped by 120 million years of ant evolution,” Bertelsmeier said.


Fighting the Invasion

To help avoid climate catastrophe, the United Nations Environment Programme is working through a framework designed to limit invasive species.

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The Invasive Alien Species Report, produced by experts from 49 countries, helps the global community find ways to limit the threat of specific invasive species.


Other Ways to Promote Biodiversity

Other scientists around the world are also doing work outside of the report to conserve native species.

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service is storing genetic material of some of the most at-risk wildlife in the US, hoping to use the samples for future conservation efforts.


Looking for Ways to Stop Invasive Species 

To help limit the connection between globalization of trade and human mobility, which is causing the ants to invade new environments, the authors of the study are planning to deepen their investigation.

A close up of a colony of ants

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“Given their geography, they attract more tourists, and they import more foodstuffs. But these often arrive accompanied by undesirable guests that are potentially harmful to the local fauna and flora, which are particularly fragile,” Aulus-Giacosa said.