Can tiny ants save us from global warming?
Posted on Aug 03 2014 | IANS
Washington, Aug 3 : Ants may be one of the earth's most powerful biological climate brokers, a study claims.
The sheer biological mass of ants working in rhythm could have removed significant quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere since the insects expanded their numbers starting 65 million years ago, researchers claim.
On an average, an ant lives and dies in less than a year, but the long-term impact of the ants on soil is significant as they cool the earth's climate as their numbers grow.
"Ants are changing the environment," says Ronald Dorn, a geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe city.
Dorn discovered that certain ant species "weather" minerals in order to secrete calcium carbonate or limestone.
When ants make limestone, the process traps and removes a tiny bit of carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere.
The team also found that ants were powerful weathering agents by tracking the breakdown of basalt sand.
The ants seem to break down the minerals 50 to 300 times faster than sand left undisturbed on bare ground.
"The ants may be extracting calcium and magnesium from the minerals and using them to make limestone. In the process, the insects may trap carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the rock," Dorn explained.
The study was published in the journal Geology.