Profitable cooperation: Ants protect and fertilize plants

In a new article, researchers from Aarhus University describe how the waste left by ants on plant leaves serves as a valuable fertiliser for the plants -- handed on a silver platter.

You have often seen ants wandering about on leaves -- even in tall trees. In fact, it is the plants themselves that attract them by secreting sugar-containing nectar, which the ants eat with great pleasure. And on their journey around trunks and leaves, the ants snap insects that could otherwise damage the plants.

This has been known for many years and Danish researchers now use this knowledge in the battle against harmful insects in organic apple orchards. They simply move wood ants from the forest and create new anthills in the orchards.

Now researchers have found yet another positive effect of the ants' visit to the trees. Their urine or faeces, excreted together, contain amino acids and urea -- substances that are commercially used to spray on leaves to fertilise the plants.

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