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The ants of the Messor barbarus species retouch the granulometry and the mineralogical composition of the soils where they inhabit, influencing the results of palaeoenvironmental and paleoclimatic studies.
This is stated by a study in which the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), the Institute of Geosciences (CSIC-UCM) and the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC) have collaborated.
The daily activity of these insects alters the composition of the soils and opens the door to a new paleontological technique for delimiting areas where to look for fossils, since they also transport them.
Favorite materials of ants to build their galleries
Scientists have also determined which materials are the favorites of these ants in the construction of their galleries.
“There are countless studies from decades ago that indicate that ants and other arthropods that act on the ground are true engineers and constantly modify their environment. In this study we found that, if this action were intensive in a certain area, it could affect petrological studies for the inference of paleoclimates.”, Highlights Omid Fesharaki, researcher at the Department of Geodynamics, Stratigraphy and Paleontology of the UCM and one of the authors of the work published in Catena.
In the study of climatic characteristics of the Earth in the past Analyzes of mineral typologies and their proportions in sediments of a certain age can be used, since mineral associations will largely depend on their stability and, therefore, on climatic characteristics such as temperatures or rate. of precipitation.
The preferred selection of ants can alter these mineral associations, and therefore falsify data from paleoclimate studies made.
That is why it is important to take into account when making this type of climatic inferences the bioturbating action of ants or other insects.
The work, carried out in the Somosaguas paleontological site (Madrid), shows for the first time that these insects also carry fossil remains and it opens the doors to use this activity as a paleontological prospecting technique to delimit fossiliferous areas.
“It is a relatively easy and inexpensive technique that would consist of studying under a magnifying glass or triad of ant mounds to find fossils in microvertebrate deposits or with fragments of macrovertebrate remains”Explains Fesharaki.
Ants: this is how they choose the grains
Another conclusion is related to the transported grains. In previous studies it has been described that ants select the sizes that interest them most for their constructions, but in this work, in addition, the researchers describe how.
Thus, researchers have determined that the Messor barbarus species of ants prefers to extract medium-sized grains as opposed to finer or coarser grains and that they prefer to extract feldspar rather than quartz, probably following criteria of mechanical stability and ease of transport.
“Perhaps because in their engineering works they are able to differentiate what types of grain sizes and what mineral compositions are the ones that will give greater stability to the structures they build and, therefore, the rest they discard are those that they extract outside the anthill”, Supposes the scientist of the UCM.
Among the techniques developed in the work are the counting with petrographic microscope In order to be able to compare the mineralogical composition of modified anthill sediments with those that have not been modified by these insects, the triad or the observation under a magnifying glass of fossil remains or the analysis of the granulometries of mounds to compare with previous data.
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