How billions of ants have been re-designing a London park

New research shows that yellow meadow ants have created nearly half a million anthills in Richmond Park.

A
a
-
How billions of ants have been re-designing a London park

Yellow meadow ants create anthills in grasslands © Penny Dixie / Royal Parks Foundation

 

Citizen scientists and experts have been working together to survey anthills in the grassland habitats of the royal park.

They have calculated that there are more than 400,000 anthills, which are host to around three billion ants, weighing a total of around 7,500 kg – which is heavier than an African elephant.

“Richmond Park is best known for its majestic deer, but there is another, more secretive animal that shapes the landscape,” says Dr Alice Laughton, project manager for the The Royal Parks’ Mission: Invertebrate project.

“Over the past four centuries, billions of yellow meadow ants have constructed hills that now support an abundance of insects, animals, plants and fungi, vastly improving the grassland.”

The number and size of the mounds were measured by 55 volunteers from the project in eight study zones, and the findings were extrapolated to cover all the grassland habitats of Richmond Park.

The research was testing the theory that the biggest anthills were located in the oldest and the most ecologically-rich pastures.

The survey results were compared to the records of human impact in the park, including World War Two cultivation and furrowing in the 1700s.

The largest anthills (with volumes of more than 80 litres) were found in the park’s oldest pastures, and it is believed that some are at least 150 years old. 

 

Citizen scientists and experts worked together on the anthill survey © Penny Dixie / Royal Parks Foundation

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here