Fijian ants began planting fruit crops much before ancient humans did, a team of researchers in Germany revealed recently.
According to a new research by scientists at the University of Munich, Germany, the black ants found in Fiji, called Philidris nagasau, should be credited for inventing agriculture on the planet around 3 million years back.
Fijian ants are ordinary looking, small and black. They live and eat Squamellaria, a plant that grows in the cracks and elbows of various trees.
The researchers reconstructed the evolutionary history of the relationship between Fijian ants and fruit plants. They found that these ants not only live inside these hollow plants but also farm them.
A Fijian ant actively cultivates plants and then inhabits them for protection. In the study published in the journal Nature Plants, the researchers were able to determine a behavior that suggests the ants have been into agriculture for millions of years.
The researchers, Guillaume Chomicki and Susanne Renner, showed that the ants actively farm at least six species of the plant and gather the seeds from its fruits. They then insert them into cracks of the host tree. As a result, the seedlings form hollow chambers and these ants defecate inside to fertilize the plant.
They also found that aside from farming purposes, these ants perform this act to build a nesting place and protection for transient workers and permanent ant colonies, a press release from the University of Munich, Germany stated.
In fact, the researchers found that the ants and plants are interdependent, which means that one cannot survive without the other.
"The story is unique. We already have ants that disperse seeds and have ants that feed plants, but we've never had a case where they farm a plant they can't live without," Brian Fisher, an entomologist-in-residence at the California Academy of Sciences, said as reported by NPR.
He added that about 40 percent of annual plants in the northeastern United States are dispersed by ants. Now, the new research shows that this specific species of plants are actually farming fruit plants.