Tim with an Ant

Tim King was engaged by the Royal Parks to advise on ant-hill research in Richmond Park as part of Mission:Invertebrate in 2017. Richmond Park is the largest (4 square miles) of the Royal Parks and supports a managed herd of at least 630 red and fallow deer. In the grasslands there are over 400,000 ant-hills built by the yellow meadow ant Lasius flavus.

The Citizen Science component involved up to 55 members of the general public who sampled ant-hills at six sites. In the research component, Dr King extracted the soil animals from 212 soil cores, identifying and counting them.

This research established that the grasslands undisturbed for the longest time had the largest ant-hills. It led to an index of grassland age, based on sampling ant-hill volumes.

At any one time nearly a third of these underground ants, together with 93% of the underground aphids they farm, were beneath the grassland between the mounds. The densities of aphids, mites and springtails in grassland soils were remarkably high, and much higher than in the ant-hills themselves. In all, over 21,000 meso-arthropods were counted. Precise identifications will take some time, but will characterise the soil fauna of these important acidic grasslands (National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest, SAC) for the first time.

Dr King described the results in the Brad Ashby Memorial lecture (London NHS/ British Entomological & Natural History Society) in Hyde Park, and led a grassland course for the Friends of Richmond Park. His three reports are available from him on request.

Ant Hills
Ant Hill
Green Plants and Their Allies