Ant Poop

Christian Alexander Stidsen Pinkalski and colleagues have a paper about ant poop forthcoming in the Journal of Ecology. Unfortunately, the full article is apparently not yet available online. But if the abstract is to be believed, the researchers confined weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) to the canopy above coffee plants, and fed the ants a diet labelled with a particular version of nitrogen, 15N. This labelling approach allowed the researchers to differentiate between nitrogen derived from ants and that originating from other sources. Then, they tested the nitrogen profile of the coffee plants, and found that 15N uptake and overall nitrogen uptake was higher in the coffee plants below these canopy ants. This strongly suggests that nitrogen derived from ant poop is an important source of nitrogen in plant communities, and thus may be an under-appreciated component of the nutrient cycle. Well, shit!

An ant with important poop. Photo: Alex Wild