Sugar ants’ desire for pee might cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions

Information Launch 6-Feb-2020

College of South Australia

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Sugar ants mining urine in sand on Kangaroo Island Credit score UniSA / Sophie Petit

An unlikely penchant for pee is placing a standard sugar ant on the map, as new analysis from the College of South Australia reveals their style for urine may play a job in lowering greenhouse gases.

Led by wildlife ecologist Affiliate Professor Topa Petit, the Kangaroo Island-based analysis discovered that sugar ants desire urine over sugar – the meals supply after which they’re named – nocturnally foraging on it to extract nitrogen molecules, a few of which may find yourself within the greenhouse gasoline, nitrous oxide.

The Australian-first examine in contrast the behaviours of sugar ants (Camponotus terebrans) as they have been uncovered to totally different concentrations of urine (human and kangaroo ~ 2.5 per cent urea), sugar water (20 per cent and 40 per cent), and urea in water (at 2.5 per cent; three.5 per cent; 7 per cent and 10 per cent), discovering that sugar ants have been most drawn to greater concentrations of urea, mining them for lengthy intervals inside a dry sand substrate.

Whereas different ants are identified to be drawn to urine, that is the primary time that ants have been noticed mining dry urine from sand, and for an extended time frame.

Assoc Prof Petit says the curious discovery may play a job in nitrogen biking.

“After I first seen the ants swarming to scavenge urine, it was purely by chance. However underneath analysis situations we discovered that the ants determinedly mined urea patches evening after evening with higher numbers of ants drawn to greater urea concentrations,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

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“Camponotus terebrans are undoubtedly on the lookout for urea in urine as a result of, just like sure different ant species, a bacterium of their digestive tract permits them to course of urea to get nitrogen for protein.

“This exceptional means to extract urea from dry sand not solely reveals how sugar ants can survive in arid situations, but additionally, how they could cut back the discharge of ammonia from urine, which ends up in the manufacturing of nitrous oxide, a extremely energetic greenhouse gasoline.”

Nitrous oxide (NO2) is a greenhouse gasoline 300 occasions stronger than carbon dioxide. And whereas much less ample than carbon dioxide emissions, its presence within the ambiance has elevated considerably over the previous decade, accelerated principally by the widespread use of fertilisers.

Assoc Prof Petit says that whereas there’s nonetheless lots to study in regards to the foraging behaviours of sugar ants, the examine reveals a symbiotic relationship between ants and vertebrates akin to kangaroos in dry environments, and proof of the nitrogen cycle at work.

“The flexibility of sugar ants to thrive in dry, sandy environments and use sources of nitrogen that might not be out there to different species is spectacular. It might give them a aggressive benefit by permitting them to feed extra offspring and subsequently enhance their numbers,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

“Researchers engaged on ants as bio-indicators on grazed and ungrazed lands ought to take ants’ means to course of urea into consideration, as a result of massive quantities of urine will most likely have an effect on the assortment of ant species within the space. It will even be fascinating to analyze how a lot ants might modify the urine ammonia volatilises from paddocks.

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“This isn’t the final we’ll hear about these sugar ants – they may open up an entire new discipline of analysis.”

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From EurekAlert!

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