Fijian ants have been farming for at least 3 million years: study
A species of ants found in Fiji started farming much earlier than humans did, a team of German entomologists reported in the journal Nature.
A team of researchers led Prof. Susanne Renner of Germany's University of Munich reconstructed the evolutionary history of the connection between Fijian ants (Philidris nagasau) and fruit plants, and concluded that this species has been nurturing Squamellaria plants and harvesting their fruit for at least 3 million years.
The Squamellaria plants, which are prevalent on the island of Fiji, grow on branches of trees. These plants' hollow structures allow the ants to reside inside instead of nests. These ants eat the fruit when it is ripe, and collect their seeds for future farming.
Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences, said, "The story is unique. We already have ants that disperse seeds, and have ants that feed plants, but we've never had a case where they farm a plant they can't live without."
The cycle has been going on since the Pliocene Epoch. In comparison, human beings are believed to have started farming or cultivating plants nearly 12,000 years ago.
Researchers also determined that the Squamellaria plants are attractive to Fijian ants either because of their soft bark or the nectar they produce.