by Brooks Hays
Munich, Germany (UPI) Nov 27, 2016
Ants have been farming for at least 3 million years. New research suggests Fijian ants were the planet's first plant farmers.
As detailed in a new paper published in the journal Nature, the ant species Philidris nagasau has been nurturing Squamellaria plants and harvesting their fruit since the Pliocene Epoch.
The historic nature of the ant species' green thumb was revealed by analysis of Philidris nagasau's evolutionary history.
Squamellaria looks more like lichen than a plant. It grows in the crevices of tree bark, and the unassuming-looking Fijian ants hang out in the plant's hollow structures, the domatia.
"The story is unique," Brian Fisher, an entomologist and researcher at the California Academy of Sciences, told NPR. "We already have ants that disperse seeds, and have ants that feed plants, but we've never had a case where they farm a plant they can't live without."
Researchers have previously discovered ants that farm fungus and mealybugs. Many species seek shelter in the hollows of plants, but the Fijian ants were the first to involve themselves in the growing process.
Philidris nagasau worker ants carry seeds from adult Squamellaria plants and embed them in especially soft patches of bark on new trees. The ants ward off potential plant eaters and fertilizer the young Squamellaria plants.
For the ants, the payoff for their hard work is the plant's juicy fruit. When the plants mature and their fruits ripen, the ants feast.
Ants can nurture multiple plants on a single tree, with each plant supporting a colony.
"One often finds dozens of colonies, connected by ant highways, on a single tree," Guillaume Chomicki, a researcher at the University of Munich, said in a news release. "All of these individuals are the progeny of a single queen, whose nest is located in the center of the system."
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|