Research: Fire Ants Not Taking Over Native Species

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 06 Jul 2004
Time: 17:27:35
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Research: Fire ants not taking over native species 
Associated Press
Last update: 03 July 2004 
GRIFFIN, Ga. -- New research is dispelling the notion that imported fire ants will wipe out native species and become the South's dominant ant.
After spending a year collecting ants around the state, University of Georgia researcher Reid Ipser was not able to find a single red fire ant in wooded areas. His study led him to conclude that fire ants thrive only in areas with disturbed soils, such as roadways, fields and clear-cut areas -- places where native ants find it harder to compete.
Fire ants certainly have become a dominant ant, but native ants are holding their own in forests, Ipser said.
"When the environment is simplified, like in clear-cut, open fields, there are fewer species due to fewer available niches," he said. "Native ants don't thrive in that kind of environment and fire ants do."
Georgia has about 143 native ant species. Many are beneficial because they help control exotic species, they help degrade animal matter and they mix up the soil.
South America's red imported fire ant is believed to have first arrived in Mobile, Ala., in the 1920s in dirt used as ship's ballast. Since then, fire ants have spread across about 275 million acres of the South, including being found in each of Georgia's 159 counties.
When disturbed, fire ants swarm out of their nests and sting repeatedly. Their stings usually cause only pain, discomfort and small blisters, but they can be fatal to small animals and people who are allergic to their venom.
Over the years, efforts to control the spread of fire ants have failed. Homeowners spend millions of dollars on pesticides trying to rid their yards of fire ant mounds. The ants often just move to another location.
Entomologists plan to study the effects of pesticides on fire ants and native ants. They may be able to develop techniques for killing fire ants while sparing the beneficial species.
"Management of pests needs to be more biologically than chemically based," Ipser said. "People need to realize that killing all ants isn't the best method from an environmental or an economical standpoint. Conserving forests is one of several variables that will help." ---
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