Climate Change May Stop Invasive Ant Cold

LiveScience.com
Climate Change May Stop Invasive Ant Cold
.

View photo

These maps compare the potentially suitable habitat ranges of the invasive big-headed ant from low (light red) to high (dark red) under current climate conditions (a) and in the future under global warming (b).

An aggressive ant species so vicious that in groups it can eat bird hatchlings alive may see its territory decline in the coming decades as climate change takes its toll on its habitats.

Pheidole megacephala, more popularly known as the big-headed ant, has been classified as one of the world's 100 most invasive species, found in every continent except Antarctica. A recent model, however, predicts global warming will slow the ants' march significantly by 2080.

"Ants, because they are a cold-blooded species, they are supposed to be very sensitive to small changes in temperature," said Cleo Bertelsmeier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Paris South. So Bertelsmeier used a model to look at how the species' distribution might change at the predicted levels of global warming.

The results show the ant populations and territory beginning to decline as soon as 2020, and then losing as much as one-fifth of their potential roaming territory by 2080.

Ant invaders

Invasive species are among the top threats to global biodiversity, Bertelsmeier notes in her research paper. As trade and tourism reach more far-flung areas, accidental and deliberate introductions of species into new areas become more prevalent. The native species then get crowded out and, in many cases, go extinct. [Alien Invaders: Destructive Invasive Species]

Because ants are small and colonial by nature, they are one of the best-equipped animals to take over a new area — making them one of the world's most invasive creatures, according to multiple studies.

The big-headed ant is a particularly troublesome one that likely originated in Africa. .

"It has a lot of negative impacts on many other species — native ants, other invertebrates and even on birds," Bertelsmeier told LiveScience. She added that although big-headed ants often eat bird hatchlings when attacking in groups, they have an even larger impact on other ants and invertebrates.

But the ants' footprint extends even further. "They also eat seeds, so they can have an impact on plant populations and also agriculture," Bertelsmeier said. "They [cause] quite a crisis — in an invading area, some people are afraid of them."

To examine how the ants might be affected by climate change, Bertelsmeier and her colleagues created a model that took into account information from maps of the ants' potential range and climate scenarios based on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Habitat decline

The range maps came from a New Zealand-based, publicly available database for ant distributions based on observational data sent in by students, private collectors, government agencies and biological researchers. Bertelsmeier's group further limited the data to remove instances where the ants were in greenhouses and other indoor areas.

Then, the researchers used a database called WorldClim to obtain climate information on which areas are most hospitable to ants both now and in the future. This project used data from the widely cited "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007," which projected how the climate could change in the coming decades.

The models showed that currently, the ants have favorable climactic conditions in 18.5 percent of the global landmass; the best spots are in South America, Australasia and Africa. But this range will shrink by about one-fifth by 2080, according to the consensus model generated by the researchers.

Bertelsmeier said she hopes the current data on favorable habitats will assist in protecting native species from the invasive ant.

One key limitation in the data, though, is that the researchers aren't taking into account how the ants interact with other species when hey arrive in a new area, Bertelsmeier said, adding that she's currently researching that interaction.

The research paper appeared online in the journal Biological Invasions in December 2012, and was released in print form in mid-June.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
View Comments (256)

Recommended for You

  • David Cassidy prepares to auction Florida mansion

    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Like many of his baby boomer peers with grown children and debts to settle, one-time heartthrob David Cassidy is looking to downsize.

    Associated Press38 mins ago
  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

    AFP
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Turkey onslaught on Kurds, after IS attack, fuels anger

    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Just when it seemed Turkey was getting serious about the fight against IS, it has turned its military focus to pounding its old foe: the Kurdish rebels.

    Associated Press32 mins ago
  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…

    TakePart.com
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

    Reuters
  • Dashcam catches off-duty cop threatening to put 'hole in head' of driver

    Technically Incorrect: A Massachusetts driver makes a wrong turn. What happens next, all filmed on his dashcam, has led to an investigation. And yes, it's now on YouTube.

    CNET
  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Colorado theater shooter's dad saw wide-eyed smirk before

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes came home on winter break from graduate school looking haggard and making odd facial expressions, but his father didn't suspect at the time that he was descending into mental illness.

    Associated Press
  • Trump leads Republicans, but Democrats thump him: poll

    Bombastic US billionaire Donald Trump handily leads all fellow Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, though Hillary Clinton and other Democrats trump him in head-to-head matchups, a poll said Thursday. Trump plunged into the crowded Republican nomination battle last month, and has since…

    AFP
  • Killer deal: Amazon will pay you $10 to buy a $30 Google Chromecast

    Google’s little Chromecast dongle is pretty awesome. The device plugs into the HDMI port on any HDTV or monitor and instantly gives users access to movies, TV shows, videos, music, photos and more that can be streamed from any Android device. Best of all, perhaps, the Chromecast is wonderfully…

    BGR News
  • Play

    Custom truck built by father and son stolen in Lemoore

    A Lemoore man is on the hunt for his stolen pick-up truck. The classic custom ride holds significant sentiment to its owner, who built the truck with his late father.

    KFSN – Fresno
  • Police Officer Involved in Deadly Cincinnati Shooting of Samuel DuBose Indicted for Murder, Dismissed from Force

    "I'm treating him like a murderer," prosecutor Joseph Deters said during a news conference when describing the warrant out for a police officer who killed Samuel DuBose, 43, earlier this month. Footage released today from a police officer's body cam lasts about 10 minutes and shows the shooting.…

    ABC News
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

    Reuters
  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

    CNET
  • How to upgrade to Windows 10: A step-by-step walkthrough

    It's July 29, 2015 or later and Windows 10 is now available as a free update. Here is what you can expect when you say "yes" to the update.

    TechRepublic