New research may lead to the use of insects to monitor hazardous situations before sending in humans. But we’d better get there soon, because climate change may mean the end of ants.

Engineer Khalil Najafi is finding ways to harvest energy from insects, and take the utility of the miniature cyborgs to the next level. He says, "Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack. We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go."

Despite the fact that ants are annoying, it turns out they are the key to many plants’ survival because they help disperse seeds. But ants’ ability to perform this vital function may be jeopardized by climate change. Biologist Nate Sanders says, "Ants are critically important to most ecosystems. They eat other insects, circulate nutrients, increase turnover in the soil, and move seeds around."

Sanders is testing the effects of climate change on ants by heating up patches of forest and tracking how the ants respond. He noticed dramatic changes in the ants’ daily activity in each chamber. On average, the ants foraged for about ten hours a day at normal temperatures. When temperatures were raised just a half a degree, the ants stayed in their nests underground and foraged just an hour. He says, "If the temperature increases by just a half a degree, the most important seed-dispersing ants basically shut down. They do not go out and forage and do the things they normally do.

"We know that climate change is happening. Lots of models make predictions about how biodiversity is going to respond. It will either respond by adapting, moving or going extinct. If you can’t keep up with climate change, you will go extinct."

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