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DEADLY TRAP OR SWEET HOME? SCIENTISTS ABOUT ANTS AND RUBBISH

Ants go for rubbish of certain shapes and colours. An article about it was published in ‘Global Ecology and Conservation.’ The paper was written by a group of scientists led by Krzysztof Kolenda from the University of Wrocław.

A scientific article ‘Deadly trap or sweet home? The case of discarded containers as novelty microhabitats for ants’ came out within the framework of a big cycle about the influence of rubbish on the environment.

“Our publication revolves around the impact that people have on the natural world,” says Dr Krzysztof Kolenda from the Department of Vertebrate Biology and Conservation at the Institute of Biological Sciences at the University of Wrocław. “Littering the environment is a serious problem that affects nearly every part of the world. In recent years, a great focus was laid on polluting oceans and seas, but a lot less on contaminating fauna of terrestrial ecosystems.”

Kolenda underlines that littering is being rightly disapproved. We connect it not only with the aesthetic values of the environment but also with fire hazard or leakage of dangerous chemicals.

“However, not everything is black or white in nature,” as he further claims. “Some animal species, especially the ones living in an environment that has been changed by humans, live under constant pressure and they try to adjust to new conditions.”

Since 2018, the team of scientists from Wrocław have been studying the impact of littering forests on animals. Their main goal is to assess the death rate and the extent of risk of death of animals in bottles and cans left by people in forests. Also, the team investigate which animals are able to use the above-mentioned wastes as a nest or place for reproduction.

“In our first publication in ‘Global Ecology and Conservation,’ we focused on ants. We examined whether they can make use of drink containers discarded in nature as their homes. Also, we looked into the death rate of the worker ants scavenging in these containers and their preferences in terms of types and features of wastes.”

In ten forests in Wrocław, the scientists found a total of 939 uncapped or uncorked bottles and cans. 41 of them (4.4%) were used by ants as their nests. There were four species, including Myrmica rubra, Myrmica ruginodis, Lasius riger, and Temnothorax crassispinus.

“We have come to the conclusion that ants prefer brown containers with narrow bottle neck,” says Dr Kolenda. “The probability of finding dead ants was higher in the containers of sweet drinks and hard liquors, as well as in bigger ones.”

The study has proved ants’ adaptiveness to a littered environment through making bottles and cans their new homes. However, the same study has shown that these beverage containers can be at the same time a deadly trap for this group of invertebrates. In 97 of them (10.3%), there were found 698 dead ants of at least 11 species.

“The containers more often posed a threat to ants rather than became their nest, thus we suppose that the negative effect greatly outbalances the benefits of making new microhabitat,” Kolenda concludes.

Wastes pose a deadly risk not only to ants but also many other types of invertebrates as well as vertebrates, which will be the subject of subsequent study by the team of scientists from Wrocław. Therefore, they urge everyone to clean green areas.

“When lifting containers, it is worth making sure we are not destroying ants’ nest,” Kolenda adds.

Published by: Dariusz Tomaszczyk

20 May 2020

last modification: 23 Jun 2020