It’s hard to imagine how something like coffee coming from Argentina could have any other effects on California, other than on the delicious flavors of coffee at places like Starbucks. But our love of coffee (as well as trade) can impact our wildlife on the local level! In fact we have quite a few hitchhikers that have altered local ecosystems. True it’s rare for you to see some large exotic animal. . . and more often it is those smaller animals (the animals we almost don’t notice) that make an incredible impact on our environment!
Ants play an important role in the health of an ecosystem.
Insects are the largest and most biodiverse group of animals/species in our world today! But don’t freak out, having lots of insects doesn’t mean they will all be swarming into your house or biting you. . . In fact insects play a key role in pollination (we probably wouldn’t have fruit), decomposition, and being a food source (among many other things).
Ants are really interesting insects because they can carry incredibly heavy loads for long distances and are very “team” or “family” oriented. In California, we are losing the native ants! These less aggressive harvester ants have been completely displaced by larger more aggressive ants (invasive species which were brought in on coffee beans) aka hitchhiking ants.
Native ants like the harvester ants are incredibly important because they “harvest” seeds and other plant materials. These ants help native plants to grow and thrive! They also dig and bring air and oxygen down into the soil which helps plants to grow and makes the soil very rich.
One of the thing that makes an invasive species so problematic is that they can either out-compete the local native species for food or they can eat so many different things that it’s hard to stop them from growing rapidly because food is a key factor to animals growing and to having more babies. Argentinian ants can eat pretty much anything and they are not afraid of people and are incredibly hearty.
Harvester ants, however, are much more sensitive to the environment and have symbiotic relationships (positive and mutually helpful relationships) with other native plants and animals in the ecosystem. But these locals have been around longer than you or me! Harvester ants have actually existed in California since the Ice age. Over 10,000 years! That’s a long history of ants and ruined picnics! Keep an eye out in your neighborhood this week: do you have more harvester ants or Argentinian ants?