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Ants can be used as biological crop protection, study finds

Ants can be more effective than pesticides at helping farmers produce food, according to new research. They are better at killing pests, reducing plant damage, and increasing crop yields, according to the first systematic review of ants’ contributions to crop production.

Ants are generalist predators and hunt pests that damage fruits, seeds, and leaves, leading to a drop in crop yields. A greater diversity of ants generally provides more protection against a broader range of pests, the study found.

The analysis looked at 17 crops in countries including the US, Australia, the UK, and Brazil. “In general, with proper management, ants can be useful pest controls and increase crop yield over time. Some ant species have similar or higher efficacy than pesticides, at lower costs,” researchers wrote in the paper published in Proceedings of Royal Society B.

Lead researcher Dr. Diego Anjos, from the Federal University of Uberlândia, said: “Our study encourages farmers to use more sustainable practices such as biological control provided by ants and practices of shaded crops as a way to naturally promote ants in crop systems.”

The role of ants in agriculture is not yet completely clear because they can also be a problem. Pests such as mealybugs, aphids, and whiteflies, which produce a sugary water called honeydew, are generally more common when ants are around. This is because the ants feed on honeydew and so essentially “farm” aphids like livestock, protecting them from predators in return.

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