Ants may be on the rise thanks to global warming. Former lower elevation, warmth-loving species are literally moving up. That’s the conclusion of a new study of two species of ants found in the Appalachian mountains, which was published Thursday in Global Change Biology.
SUNY Buffalo State’s Robert Warren and his student Lacy Chick studied an area of northern Georgia where the average and high temperatures have remained about the same over the 38 year period covered by the study — but where the average low nighttime temperatures have increased from 1974 to 2012. The warmer nights allowed the lower elevation species, which is more susceptible to cold, to move up mountainsides into the higher elevation ant’s territory.
In 1974, the lower elevation species was nonexistent at heights of 3,000 feet. In 2012, it represented 20 percent of the ants.
The possible march of warmth-loving ants isn’t news to people in many areas of the southeast, where the invasive black and red fire ant species continue to expand their range. A US Department of Agriculture report said that the red imported fire ant species alone will have at least 20 percent more suitable habitat available in the United States by 2100. It also noted that the black fire ant species is capable of reaching higher elevations than the red species — opening up even more area to the miserable pests.
And don’t think it can’t happen. There’s fossil evidence that giant ants have marched into America before. In 2011, paleontologist Bruce Archibald was examining fossils at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science when he realized that the gigantic two inch long fossil ant he was studying had to be related to similar giant ants known from Germany.
Although it isn’t entirely clear which way the ants marched (from Europe into America or vice versa), Archibald said that the huge, warmth-loving species must have taken advantage of natural global warming that occurred about 50 million years ago.
While the overheating climate may slow down human workers, it may be just the kick in the pants that some ant species need to start marching onward and upward.
And if you’re not worried yet, it’s because you’re the last person in America to see this time-lapse video of a gecko being consumed by fire ants:
[army ant photo courtesy Geoff Gallice and Wikipedia Commons]