Ant studies and their applicationsBy Massie Santos Ballon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Pet guppies never lasted very long in our house; they had a tendency to jump out of the shallow fishbowl we kept them in, and land several feet down onto the grass. Less than an hour after we’d brought them home from the store, we’d find the bowl empty and the guppies covered in black ants. Eventually we learned to bring home less active goldfish that were happy to simply swim around instead of up and over onto the grass below.
My knowledge of ants as a child generally broke down into two main ideas: the small, black ants were everywhere; and, to stay away from red ants and their stinging bites. Thanks to a review article published June 5 in the open-access journal Zookeys, I now know that there are more than just two kinds of ants.
Diversity of ant species in PH
As the paper from David General at Palawan State University and Gary Alpert at Harvard University in Massachusetts noted, nearly 500 different ant species grouped under 11 subfamilies have been identified in the Philippines. The researchers also mentioned that despite the diversity of ant species in the country, local ant studies or myrmecology have only been done over the past 160 or so years.
General and Alpert made no secret of their hopes that by documenting more than 90 groups under which the known ant species are categorized, others would want to enter this field of research. Admittedly, even as they suggested potential applications for ant studies in other fields, General and Alpert also warned that researchers interested in studying the local ants could find their efforts hampered by environmental challenges such as deforestation, resulting in the loss of habitats.
“The high diversity of ants in the Philippines makes inventory studies interesting, with little of the monotony of encountering the same species over and over again,” they wrote, adding that the ability to recognize local and invasive ant species can be helpful for surveyors checking potential mining sites or ecologists and conservationists checking on remediation efforts after mining or logging projects. “There is much to be done and discovered, and many opportunities await the Filipino myrmecologist,” they added.
Aside from environmental studies, ants have also been used to study social networks given their ability to keep track of their companions trekking from the colony to the crumb on the floor and back again by following scent trails. In a study from the June issue of the journal Applied Intelligence, inspired by the ants’ social behaviors, Spanish researchers have developed a computer code that allows them to quickly determine common ground between two points within a social network.
The applications of this algorithm, noted the researchers, could range from figuring what interests or relationships link two people to each other on a single social network to charting mail deliveries. The team has received funding to develop an interactive system for hotel guests based on this project.
E-mail the author at massie@ massie.com.
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