Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ten Things To Know About March Of Invasive Fire Ants

August 4, 2014

By Cheryl Dybas, National Science Foundation

Heading for a summer picnic or hike, or just out to mow your lawn? In the US Southeast and beyond, you might want to watch where you walk.

Fire ants. Crossing the border from South America, they’re on the march northward. How does habitat–in particular, corridors that connect one place with another–help the ants spread?

To find out, the National Science Foundation (NSF) talked with ecologist and program director Doug Levey of its Division of Environmental Biology, and researcher Julian Resasco, now of the University of Colorado, Boulder (formerly at the University of Florida, Gainesville).

This week Resasco, Levey and colleagues published a paper in the journal Ecology reporting new findings on habitat corridors and fire ants. They conducted their NSF-funded study in an experimental forest in South Carolina, at the USDA Forest Service – Savannah River site.

1. Where did fire ants come from, and where are they found now?

(Resasco) Fire ants are native to South America, where they’re found from Western Amazonia to northeastern Argentina. Fire ants were accidentally introduced by humans to the southeastern US almost a century ago. Now they’re established in parts of the Caribbean, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

2. Why are fire ants a problem?

(Resasco) Fire ants are very aggressive, have painful stings, and can occur at high densities. They can displace native ants and other kinds of small animals, including reptiles, birds, and mammals. Because they have a broad diet that includes plants, they’re a major economic problem in agriculture. The USDA estimates that fire ant control, property damage from the ants, and medical treatment from stings cost several billion dollars each year.

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