Answer: I don't know if the peeling bark was caused by animals or an exhuberant weed whacker or if the tree has developed root rot (I wouldn't be able to tell even with a photo). Diagnosing a problem like this really needs to be on a personal level, not from a photo. I suspect root rot because of the fungal growth you're finding on the trunk, as well. The ants may be attracted because of aphids feeding on the leaves. If the tree is valuable to you perhaps you'll want to hire an arborist to come out and assess the tree. If the problem is root rot, there's really no way to save the tree. Wish I had more encouraging news for you!
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