Recent studies strip humans from their status as the first farmers as Fiji ants turn out to have been practicing agriculture for quite some millions of years.
A team of scientists from the German Ludwig Maximilian’s University of Munich have been studying the agricultural tendencies of Fiji ants.
Their study results were published in the Nature Plants journal and seem to suggest that the ants have been practicing a rudimental form of farming millions of years before humans.
The Fiji ants in question are the Philidris nagasau or small, black, common ants. These specimens feed and live on Squamellaria, a plant which grows in the various cracks and openings of different trees.
In their study, the German botanists managed to reconstruct the centuries old relation between these fruit plants and the Fiji ants.
As the initial observations seemed to suggest, the ants not only live and feed on the plants, they also contribute by cultivating them.
The ants use the Squamellaria and other similar plants both for nutritional and their protection value. Research also seemed to determine that the Fijian ants have been practicing these customs for a few millions of years now.
Philidris ants are believed to have first started cultivating the aforementioned ants some approximated 3 million years ago.
The researchers to have studied the ant specimens are Susanne Renner and Guillaume Chomicki. The two determined that their study objects have been using the plant as both shelter and food source and, as such, have also been growing it.
As the ants were observed and tested, data showed that the tiny farmers gather and replant the seeds of more than 6 of the plant’s species.
The seed of the plants are then planted in the various cracks of the surrounding trees, that virtually act as a host and growing spot.
As the seeds grow into new crops, they gather their necessary nutrients from the natural fertilizers offered by the ants’ defecation.
The plants proceed to grow, start producing fruits and seeds and the process starts all over again. When checking the plants, Chomicki determined that the ants stick to the various Squamellaria plant types.
As the Fiji ants grow these plants, they do not move to other species. Further research determined that the insects are as dependent on the plants as the plants are on them.
Squamellaria plants were also seen to offer nesting and protection locations for both permanent and transient ant colonies.
A California Academy of Sciences entomologist-in-residence, Brian Fisher, pointed out the Fijian ants’ unique agricultural behavior.
Fisher, who was not involved in the German study, drew attention to the fact that the plants and the ants are interdependent.
According to him, other species of ants have been noticed to disperse or help grow plants or types of fungus.
But the respective ants never were in such a close, or vital relation or so dependent on the plants or fungus they helped grow.
Fisher stated that some 40 percent of the plants that grow annually in the northeastern parts of the Unites States have had their seeds dispersed by ants.
Image Source: Flickr