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The science behind Iimbovane
Why ants?
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Why ants? Print

We decided to use ants for the Iimbovane project for a number of reasons. The most important of these are that

  • Ants are really easy to collect and the equipment you need can be found in your home
  • Ants are found almost everywhere on the planet. This means that no matter where we look, we always find them.
  • There are many different types of ants, which helps us to explain complicated biodiversity concepts
  • Ants are also really fun to work with
  • Ants are relatively easy to identify, and with a little bit of effort anyone can identify them
  • Ants are very important to the environment. Ants act as what we term “ecosystem engineers”. This means that they change the environment in which they are found. For example, many ant species accumulate organic matter in their nests. This organic matter then provides a good environment for the germination and development of seeds and seedlings. Ants are also very important to the fynbos of the Western Cape because they bury indigenous seeds. Many types of ants eat the nutritious sugary coating (known as an elaiosome) surrounding the seeds of fynbos plants. To do this they take the seeds still containing the elaiosome into the ant nest. Once the elaiosome has been eaten, the seed remains in the nest. The nest then provides protection to the seed from predators or other environmental damage, such as fire
  • Many ant species are very sensitive to change, and should the environmental conditions change, these ants disappear from the environment. The opposite is also true. If a disturbed environment is repaired often ants that should be in that environment return. This means that ants are very good indicators of ecosystem health.
  • Currently scientists know a lot about the plants, mammals and birds found in South Africa. However, little is know about the insects. The Iimbovane project hopes to provide new information about the types of ants we find and where we find them in South Africa