From an interview with E. O. Wilson:

[Q:]Are ants better at anything than humans?

[Wilson:] Human beings have not yet made an accommodation with the rest of life—whereas ants, whose history dates back more than 100 million years, have achieved that balance, mostly by specializing among the 14,000 known species in terms of where they live, what they eat, and how they relate to other species. Each, for the most part, has acquired a balance with prey, food, and space, halting population growth before it crashes. Ants have reached some degree of sustainability, while humans have not. We’re not going to last 100 years if we don’t start settling down.


I think the available evidence suggests the opposite.  Ants achieved their current dominance not through finding some magical ecological balance but by driving their competition to extinction.

Consider the ground beetles.  They are an older group of insects, occupying a similar soil/ground predatory role to many ant species.  But this ancient group of beetles is globally most abundant now only around the periphery of the ants, filling in the cracks that are too cold, too dark, too extreme for the Formicidae.  Ground beetles abound in boreal forests, along ice fields, in alpine meadows above the tree line.  What’s more, those that persist in the ant-rich tropics have a more potent defensive chemistry, as if those species that didn’t retreat in the face of the ant radiation stocked up on guns and ammunition.   We don’t know for certain, but the bits of evidence taken together it’s likely that the rise of the ants had a pretty significant effect on the ground beetles.  This nature is more Red in Tooth and Claw than singing Kumbaya in global harmony.

I understand Wilson’s angle-  that humans are destroying the ecological systems that sustain us- but surely that same point can be made without resting it on feel-good pablum without any empirical grounding.