Malaysia is a country with an abundance of insects, and one of the common insects is the ant. There are 20,00 known ant species on this earth so far, and all 12 ant subfamilies exist in Malaysia. Ants are social insects that live in structured nest communities throughout the world. The habitat of ants varies. Some live underground, in mounds built at ground level, in wood structures, plants, and even trees. Examples of the common ants in Malaysia are Black House Ant (Ochetellus), Fire Ant (Solenopsis spp), and Ghost Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum). In agriculture, ants tend to be known as pests as they carry the seeds away from your planting pot or consume your planted seeds. Due to this, yes: ants are pests in agriculture. At some point, they can be pretty much annoying as they bring loss to your garden.
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However, do you know that seeds attract ants due to the presence of Elaiosomes? Elaisomes is a fleshy structures attaching to the seeds of many plant species. It consists of dead cells, lipids, and fats. ‘Elaioi’ in the name gives the meaning of oil. Adult ants will feed their larvae with seeds consisting of Elaiosomes coating. The ants will later discard those undamaged seeds after consuming larvae to the nest’s waste heap. The phenomenon is known as Myrmecochory.
Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants, an ecologically significant ant-plant interaction with worldwide distribution. Findings from researchers explaining some seeds will only germinate once Elaiosomes is removed. Due to this, they concluded that Elaiosomes' presence might serve to induce dormancy and as seed protection. They also concluded that Elaiosomes helps seeds to preserve the moisture content to keep them hydrated for germination. In the wild, Myrmecochory benefits the ecology as it protects the seeds from predators and reduces the competition of the seeds with its neighbouring plants.
The seeds carried by the ants are also able to travel far, inducing plants' genetic variation. Moreover, seeds buried into an ant-waste heap have a high chance to germinate and grow successfully as the ant-waste pile provides a nutrient-rich environment. In conclusion, as much as ants bring harm to your garden, ants happen to get good at preserving the ecology. Sustainably controlling them is crucial, and by that, a botanical insecticide such as neem is an excellent option to control their population.
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