Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rare Ants Tracked by GPS

Photo via Flickr.

Holystone Forest in the northeast of England, Northumberland to be exact, is home to an amazing variety of birdlife; and, to one very rare ant – the hairy northern wood ant.

In the 20th century conifers were planted in the forest; but, they have naturalized so well they are now crowding out the native species of oak and birch. Conservationists have decided to remove the pines and replant native species as part of a plan to return the wood to its original status as an oak wood.

The hairy northern wood ant is Britain’s largest ant; and, has (unfortunately for the loggers tasked with clearing the forest) made use of the conifers to build their nests. Discarded pine needles apparently make warm, toasty homes if you are a wood ant.

These 69 ant nests (some reaching 7 ft. or 2.1 m tall) are so endangered that they are being allocated a GPS address and then plotted onto a computerized mapping system.

The hairy northern wood ant. Photo via Flickr.

This way the loggers can take them into account when planning how to clear the conifers from the forest. Some of the conifers will be left in small patches around the nests as the ants like to build their massive homes in sun traps with trees providing sheltered alcoves and needles for building materials.

This is quite a massive project with the Forestry Commission planning to remove 10,000 tons of conifers to restore the area to its ancient roots as an oak wood.

Nick Brodin, Natural England's regional biodiversity officer, said:

"Use of GPS technology has revolutionized nature conservation research and habitat management . . . Hairy wood ants are a very uncommon species in the north-east of England and it's great news that these amazing ant nest stacks in Holystone Wood will be safeguarded thanks to satellite technology."

One of the enormous mounds these ants build and live in. Photo via BBC.

Short news clip:

Via TreeHugger, BBC News and Telegraph

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