Useful ants

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Useful ants

Post by Benoit Guenard on Fri Feb 29, 2008 8:36 pm

In this world more and more based on materialism and profitability it is sometimes difficult to explain to non scientific people (and even to some scientific colleagues) that I work on ants and why it can be interesting and useful. Usually, the discussion the discussion looks like:

Me:" Ants are important in ecological processes: they regulate other insects populations, they can disperse seeds, they move around the ground, blablabla blablabla,..."
And in 90% of the cases, my interlocutor that I hope to have convinced with my answer, usually achieve me with...
The interlocutor: "So, how I can kill the ants of my kitchen, backyard,..."

At this moment, I can feel what loneliness feels like.

Fortunately, sometimes I find an article that show me that ants are not only interested for myrmecologists and kids but also for "normal people". Paul Van Mele recently published in Agricultural and Forest Entomology an article untitled: A historical review of research on the weaver ant Oecophylla in biological control.
Oecophylla for me who belongs to the new generation of myrmecologist, it is the ant in the cover of "THE ANTS" by Holldobler and Wilson, and of course this awake a lot of good memories. But in this article I learned that Oecophylla represent for millions of people an extraordinary ally in agriculture against pests in Asia and Africa. And contrary to many biological programs, the use of Oecophylla is very old because some document dated from the beginning of the 4th century in China mention it.

This article present with elegance the use and importance of Oecophylla in Asia and Africa, in what we could call a find of ethno-myrmecology, but also present the important biological role of Oecophylla and raise the problem of invasive species like Pheidole megacephala that reduced the Oecophylla efficiency.

So if you too you want to use pragmatic arguments in the defense of myrmecology, I recommend the reading of this article. In that case you could use two good arguments: the use of Oecophylla reduces the cost and the use of pesticides, and this it is priceless!

Here are the full references of the article and its abstract:
Van Mele P. 2008. A historical review of research on the weaver ant Oecophylla in biological control. Agricultural and Forest Entomology 10: 13-22.

Abstract:
1 Although the weaver ant Oecophylla is the first written record of biological control, dating from 304 ad , there have been fewer than 70 scientific publications on this predator as a biological control agent in Asia, from the early 1970s onwards, and fewer than 25 in Africa.
2 Apart from crop-specific ecological and perceptual factors, a historical review shows that political and market forces have also determined the extent to which Oecophylla was incorporated into research and development programmes.
3 In Africa, research on weaver ants in biological control concentrated on export crops, such as coconut and cocoa, whereas, in Asia and Australia, research focused on fruit and nut crops, primarily destined for domestic markets.
4 Increased evidence of pesticide inefficiency under tropical smallholder conditions, changing paradigm shifts in participatory research and a growing scientific interest in local knowledge in the early 1990s opened up new avenues for research on conservation biological control.
5 Lobbying and advocacy have been needed to ensure that Oecophylla was recognized as an effective biological control agent.
6 With an increased market demand for organic produce, holistic approaches such as conservation biological control, particularly the use of Oecophylla , are increasing in importance.
7 Multi-stakeholder strategies for collaborative learning are proposed for a better control of major fruit, nut and timber tree pests in Africa, Asia and Australia.
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Benoit Guenard
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