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Ants are an important part of ecosystem,says expert

For the past 15 years,Dr Himender Bharti has been working on ant systematics and has discovered 70 new species of ants from India,including the red list species from the Himalayas. Dr Bharti is a professor in the department of Zoology and Environmental Sciences at Punjabi University,Patiala. He believes that improved understanding of ants – how […]

For the past 15 years,Dr Himender Bharti has been working on ant systematics and has discovered 70 new species of ants from India,including the red list species from the Himalayas.

Dr Bharti is a professor in the department of Zoology and Environmental Sciences at Punjabi University,Patiala. He believes that improved understanding of ants – how to identify them,where they live,what they do – is an important task in sustainably maintaining the ecosystem.

Ants constitute 25 per cent of the total animal weight in the tropics. At present,745 species of ants in India are recognised. Talking about the behavioural and social aspects of ants,Dr Bharti said that ants are social in nature and live in colonies.

“The ant colony is built up by the queen ant. A fertile female ant finds a suitable nesting site for laying eggs. The eggs hatch into tiny larvae. The first batch of larvae becomes the first batch of workers. These workers then take up the responsibility of feeding the young ones as well as the queen.”

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“When the queen feels that she has produced enough number of workers,then she starts producing males and females,for reproduction. During monsoons,these males and female ants come out and reproduce. Male ants with wings die after reproduction and female ants find another suitable site for laying eggs,” he explained.

Dr Bharti has found the new species – Myrmica Nefaria – in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. This species,unlike others,is parasitic in nature. Instead of making her own colony,she invades another queen’s colony and rules there. At times,she kills the hosts and makes workers feed her and her larvae.

Talking about other aspects of ants,Dr Bharti said,“More recently they are being used as indicator organisms which provide cues regarding our deteriorating ecosystems. In India,for the first time,the potential of these tiny creatures is being put to practice for assessing the health of the Himalayan mountain systems – which is deteriorating due to growing human activities.”

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The ecosystems of two important Eco-regions – the Himalayas and the Western Ghats – are under serious threat. Both areas are also listed as biodiversity hot spots,and their ants merit special mention,he said.

“The Himalayan system harbours about 202 species of ants,with 45 per cent being endemic to the region. Genre such as Myrmica,Lasius,Formica and others dominate the higher Himalayan ranges and nest under stones but do not penetrate more temperate,lower-elevation areas,” Dr Bharti said.

Recently,the doctor was awarded with the Distinguished Taxonomist Award 2012 in recognition for his contribution to the diversity of ants.

First published on: 13-11-2013 at 01:44 IST
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