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Ants play key role in species conservation

Consideration for army ants in forest planning could help protect several animal species, a review study concludes.

Dr Silvia Silvia Perez-Espona studying army ants.
Dr Silvia Silvia Perez-Espona studying army ants.

A group of ant species plays a key role in maintaining biodiversity in forests in Central and South America, and should be considered in conservation management, a study from the Roslin Institute suggests.

Multiple species, such as birds, monkeys and butterflies rely on Eciton army ants – whose colonies are characterised by being nomadic and bivouac instead of having permanent nests – to survive in forests ranging from Mexico to Argentina, research has found.

Deforestation, habitat fragmentation and changes in land-use impact long-term survival of these army ant colonies, as well as of the species depending on them, previous studies have reported.

Species protection

The role of army ants in indirectly protecting many other species – i.e. their role as umbrella species – should be considered in conservation planning, design of nature reserves and monitoring of sustainable use of forests in those areas, the review study concluded.

Conservation actions to preserve these ants, such as identifying areas that require protection or creating habitat corridors to connect colonies in fragmented forests, would protect a wide range of species.

Many species rely on Eciton army ants to survive. Conservation actions to protect neotropical forest biodiversity should consider these ants as umbrella species. It is important that these conservation actions are led by local researchers, environmental agencies and non-governmental organisations, with participation of local communities that depend on forested areas for their livelihoods.

Dr Silvia Perez-EsponaConservation Science Programme Coordinator, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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