Ants of the Top End poster
Ants are the life-blood of northern Australia’s tropical savanna ecosystems.
This poster provides an overview of some of the most commonly encountered ant species in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
Ants are probably the most familiar of all Australian insects, and the Top End is blessed with an extraordinary number of them! Scientists estimate that ants make up about one-quarter of the total weight of all land animals combined, which is an incredible figure for such small creatures. At least 500 ant species occur in the Top End, with more than 100 found nowhere else in the world.
Ants: small but important!
In terms of their role in ecosystems, ants are probably the most important animals in the Top End environment. As predators and scavengers they play a key role in nutrient cycling and energy flow, and their burrowing activities promote soil health. .
Ants have many close relationships with plants. Many plants offer food rewards such as nectar to entice ants to forage on them, in order to control the plant’s natural enemies.
Other plants encourage ants to disperse their seeds, by having a special ‘ant food’ body attached to the seed. Australia is the world’s home for such a phenomenon, with more than 1500 plant species relying on ants for seed dispersal.
Most of the Top End’s acacias and grevilleas have their seeds dispersed by ants.
Ants can help us manage the environment
The great diversity and ecological importance of ants make them valuable bio-indicators of the health of our ecosystems - if ant communities are in good shape then this is likely to indicate that the environment is likewise in good shape.
Ants are commonly used as bio-indicators to monitor environmental health for a wide range of land-uses, including mining, grazing and fire management.