A new study states that some ant species living in urban environment relish junk food.
The study, which was conducted by the researchers from the North Carolina State University and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, explained why certain ants are thriving in urban environments. The findings stem from a study that tested isotope levels in New York City ants to determine the makeup of their diet.
Dr. Clint Penick, Ph. D. Postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina State University, and the lead author of the study, said, “Human foods clearly make up a significant portion of the diet in urban species. These are ants eating our garbage, and this may explain why pavement ants are able to achieve such large populations in cities.”
For their study, the researchers analyzed 100 ants representing 21 species from New York. The researchers stated that a diet which consists of grasses like corn and sugarcane will show the presence of a carbon isotope known as carbon-13. Corn and refined sugar are present in everything from hamburgers to processed foods. Ants that eat a lot of human food have higher levels of carbon-13 than ants that avoid human food.
So they tried to see if there were any traces of carbon-13 in the 21 species of ants collected from different areas of New York City, including parks, sidewalks and traffic islands. They found that ants that were collected from areas that are usually more populated by humans, showed an increased level of carbon-13, compared to the species of ants that lived in more isolated areas like big parks. The species with the highest levels of carbon-13 was the most common ant on the street, the ‘pavement ant’ Tetramorium caespitum.
“This highlights the complex nature of urban ecosystems and how much we still have to learn about how these species relate to each other and to the environment. These are the ants eating our garbage, and this may explain why pavement ants are able to achieve such large populations in cities,” added Dr. Penick.