How do ants dispose of waste

Insects throw away tons of waste

Ants and the like take away food scraps amounting to 60,000 hot dogs every year - and that only on parts of New York's streets. That affects people's health, say researchers.

Biscuit crumbs and hot dog leftovers: the median is a welcome snack for many animals. In New York alone, hundreds of tons of waste are eaten by insects every year, researchers report. Useful side effect: there is less left for rats and pigeons.

On the median of Broadway and West Street in New York City alone, they clear away around 60,000 hot dogs annually, according to scientists in the journal Global Change Biology. Since there is less leftover food for rats and pigeons, the crawly animals also work as pest fighters.

In order to investigate the role of crawlers in garbage disposal in more detail, the researchers working with Elsa Youngsteadt from North Carolina State University in Raleigh first determined which types of arthropods are found in the parks and on the median strip of New York City's Manhattan.

In addition to insects, arthropods include, for example, millipedes and arachnids. The researchers also measured the temperature and humidity of the green spaces, as well as the thickness of the foliage layer.

Chips, cookies and hot dogs

Then they began the actual experiment: They distributed chips, biscuit and hot dog leftovers in selected places on the green areas. At each place they laid out the food on the one hand openly, on the other hand in a lattice cage that was only accessible to the little crawlers. They did the whole thing twice: once with small leftovers, once with larger pieces. After every 24 hours, they determined how much of the leftover food was left.

They found that the crawlers could completely dispose of smaller portions of food within a day, but not larger pieces. "We have calculated that the arthropods alone on the median of Broadway and West Street can consume more than 950 kilograms of discarded junk food every year - including a break from work in winter," explains Elsa Youngsteadt in a statement from the university.

"Real service"

“It's not just a silly fact. That shows a real service of these arthropods. They effectively dispose of rubbish for us. "

The researchers were surprised that the crawlers in the median ate more food than those in the parks - despite the significantly lower biodiversity between the lanes. They explain this mainly with the widespread distribution of the plaster ant (Tetramorium sp.) On the median.

Wherever this species was introduced to North America about 100 years ago, two to three times more leftover food is disposed of than in places without it, the researchers report. The crawling garbage disposal was also particularly effective in hotter and drier places.

The species of arthropods that occur and the characteristics of the habitat played a greater role in waste disposal than the diversity among crawlers.

If vertebrates such as rats, birds, squirrels and raccoons had access to the leftover food, more of it was disposed of overall. Both groups competed for waste, the researchers write. What the arthropods eat is no longer available to the vertebrates. This could help limit the number of vertebrates that can transmit diseases to humans. Urban green space management, which favors ants over rats, thus benefits public health.

Hurricane "Sandy", which swept over New York in 2012 and led to widespread flooding, had no measurable impact on the disposal of waste by the arthropods, according to another result of the study. Their results highlight the value that even small green spaces have in urban areas, the researchers write.

SDA / clp

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