Ants to ensure a future for organic apples

Little marvels of nature key to fighting pests and disease

In future, indomitable armies will assist in generating a better harvest of organic fruit trees in Denmark. Ant colonies are being recruited to devour pests, see off fungi and fertilise the plants.

Researchers from Aarhus University (AU) are moving a number of large forest ant colonies from Løvenholm Forest into an apple plantation on Djursland as part of a considerable experiment.

“We are moving a large ant colony from a pine forest and will spread a number of smaller colonies, each having its own queen, around the apple plantations,” said Joachim Offenberg, a senior researcher from the Department of Bioscience at AU.

“The forest ants require needles to construct their colonies, so we are placing extra pine needles in the plantation.”

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The little protector
The researchers hope the ants will devour the unwanted moth larvae that eat the leaves of the apple trees in the spring, thus hampering tree growth and production.

The little moth larvae appear when it is still cold and its natural enemies, the tit and the great tit, are still nesting while other predatory insects have yet to awaken from their winter hibernation.

Aside from the moth larvae, the ants also help fertilise the trees with their urine and excrement, and they also release antibiotics, including fungi poisons, via glands and bacteria on their bodies.

Previous research has documented that the prevalence of illness and disease in wild trees increases dramatically when ants are removed from the area.

The researchers at AU are already ready to move a further couple of hundred thousand ants sometime during this spring.