According to the results, the most common species of ant found on the pavements of cities around the world likes to eat human food more than those species found in green spaces, writes Deepti Hajela for the Seattle Times.
Ants eating human food in cities
“The ants that live alongside us in our cities also seem to be those same species that can eat the same food that we do, and do so the most,” said Clint Penick, a post-doctoral fellow at North Carolina State University and lead researcher of the study
Researchers collected samples of over 20 different species of ants from various environments across Manhattan before testing them to determine the levels of a particular carbon isotope in their bodies. The isotope is linked to corn and sugar cane commonly found in human food, taking in the spectrum from meat to processed goods.
The research team determined that higher isotope levels would reveal that ants were eating more human food, and the species with the highest levels was the pavement ant Tetramorium species e. According to the study authors, this ant is most common on city sidewalks. Analysis of species of ants that call parks and other green spaces home showed lower isotope levels.
Adaptations aid chances of survival
Penick said that adapting their diet to take in more human food could be an advantage for pavement ants, enabling them to survive and thrive in parts of the city where a more natural diet of dead insects is harder to maintain.
“Humans bring a ton of general resources,” he said. “The species that can take advantage of these resources the best, sort of wins.”
The next stage of research is an investigation into whether certain ants prefer a diet of human food even if there is no shortage of natural food sources. It will be interesting to see whether the availability of human food could change the ants natural preferences.
The results of the first study were published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.