Apr 15, 2024 - News

Colorado's ant populations are feeling the sting of climate change

Ants in Gregory Canyon in Boulder. Photo: Courtesy of Anna Paraskevopoulos/The University of Colorado Boulder

Climate change is causing Colorado's ants to march one by one out of their natural habitat.

Why it matters: Scientists say it's yet another sign of the "insect apocalypse" devastating their diversity and overall population worldwide.

  • Insects play a vital part in our ecosystem and food web, meaning their future is integrally tied to our own.

The latest: New research published this month in Ecology found that higher temperatures have forced ant species in Gregory Canyon near Boulder to search for more suitable environments.

  • Researchers surveyed the same site that University of Colorado Boulder entomologists did 60 years ago and discovered 12 ant species documented there are now much harder to find.
  • This is particularly concerning because Gregory Canyon has remained largely unaffected by land-use change, scientists note.

The intrigue: Ants, which are ectothermic, act as a canary in the coal mine for climate change because their bodies are highly sensitive to warming weather.

  • Those that forage across a wider range of temperatures are now more widespread, while those that don't are becoming increasingly rare.

What they're saying: "If the ecosystem has only a single type of ant, it could … potentially [reduce] ecosystem stability," the study's lead author Anna Paraskevopoulos, a Ph.D. student studying ecology and evolutionary biology at CU Boulder, said in a statement.

  • Ant species that have disappeared affect other organisms that depend on them for food, pollination or pest control, she added.

The bottom line: The latest study suggests that climate change could be decimating ant biodiversity around the world in both urban and wild spaces, researchers warn.

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