Published On: Tue, Sep 7th, 2010

Ants protect trees from elephants

Ants are not out of their weight class when defending trees from the appetite of nature’s heavyweight, the African elephant, a new University of Florida study finds.

Columns of angered ants will crawl up into elephant trunks to repel the ravenous beasts from devouring tree cover throughout drought-plagued East African savannas, playing a potentially important role in regulating carbon sequestration in these ecosystems, said Todd Palmer, a UF biology professor and co-author of a paper being published in the journal Current Biology.

“It really is a David and Goliath story, where these little ants are up against these huge herbivores, protecting trees and having a major impact on the ecosystems in which they live,” Palmer said. “Swarming groups of ants that weigh about 5 milligrams each can and do protect trees from animals that are about a billion times more massive.”

The mixture of trees and grasses that make up savanna ecosystems are traditionally thought to be regulated by rainfall, soil nutrients, plant-eating herbivores and fire, he said.

Read the rest: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100902121053.htm

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