Fire Ants 1, Australia 0

Have Australians lost their fight against imported fire ants?

Despite $215 million being poured into eradication programs nationally, fire ants have claimed territory in an arc from Logan City, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, to near Grandchester, about 80km west of where the first outbreak was found at the Port of Brisbane in 2001.

Authorities now concede a new and even more expensive long-term campaign might be needed to stop them threatening our lifestyles.

I am curious as to how fire ants threaten the Aussie lifestyle, though. Do they eat Vegemite?

12 thoughts on “Fire Ants 1, Australia 0”

  1. I find this very interesting and not at all surprising, given the history of failed eradication attempts everywhere else (i.e. the “fire ant wars” of the US). Why do we insist on dramatizing the interaction of these ants with people to such absurd levels? I also found it interesting that in our PNAS paper (King and Tschinkel) when we suggested that our approach to the management of pest ants, and fire ants in particular, is off-base and should be revised, a number of Australians were among those clamoring about how wrong we were about that statement. Yet, here we are again. Sigh.

    1. Well, I’m one Australian that recently referred to your paper in a positive way (assuming this was the 2008 paper – but then only in a description of a mite on RIFA in Louisiana).

      Still, eradication was worth a go. The original infestation seemed relatively small when first discovered and Australia has claimed successful eradication of some introduced insects. A lot of Australia’s agricultural viability depends on the lower expense of production that comes from not having a lot of the pests present in the rest of the World. Also, it is pretty clear that fire ants will have a pretty negative effect on wildlife, especially all the small lizards, frogs, etc.

      When the extent of the spread of the alates became apparent, however, I think most people working on the project realized eradication was unlikely. Of course, a lot of myrmecologists got a few years employment out of it.

      1. macromite,
        Well, I certainly don’t harbor any hard feelings toward Australian’s (indeed, I credit the my time on the continent and Alan Andersen with getting me started with ants!). I guess my point was that the reaction to fire ants is the same no matter where you go (or how long your country’s history is with biological invaders). The initial invasion scenario (it started on an island, right?) and then around Brisbane seemed to suggest eradication might work and I agree it was worth a shot. What worries me is, now that eradication is not realistic, Australia will repeat some of the mistakes made here. Oh, and thanks for the cite!

      2. As I remember it (I was at UQ at the time), the original discovery was in a small park on an island in the port – a worker got stung, some ants were collected, and by chance DPI actually had someone who could tell apart species of Solenopsis. Once people started looking, colonies were found in several places (and records of similar stinging events in that park went back several years).

        So, it wasn’t that Australia had a monitoring program in place and caught the invasion early, but more we knew so little that eradication seemed reasonable.

        As for repeating others mistakes, well, probably. When you mix science and politics, inevitably, the science conforms to the politics, never the other way around.

        Good paper and a pleasure to cite – not many people seem to be thinking coherently about invasive species.

  2. I presume that the “Australian lifestyle” must involve long contact with the ground in a nude or semi-nude state while lying in the path of a moving swarm of fire ants.

    Odd, really. :}

  3. Meh, no surprises there! I suspect you guys over in the States are sick of hearing the same old, same old…..
    The word “eradication” was invented by a politician, I’m sure of it (and possibly someone from BASF or Bayer).

    And those comments on the Courier Mail website are hysterical…..”money will eradicate fire ants!!”

    Thanks for posting this news piece Alex.

  4. I liked this line:

    “Authorities now concede a new and even more expensive long-term campaign might be needed to stop them threatening our lifestyles.”

    I can see someone somewhere rubbing their hands together in glee.

    Also, Alex.. if Vegimite floats their boat, I say let them have the stuff. Everyone knows Promite is the way ahead!

  5. what i’m wondering about is how Pheidole megacephala, which got to australia first, and the new invader are getting along…

  6. @asj

    Pheidole 1, RIFA 2.

    Result difficult to predict but referee appears to be only penalising RIFA.

    Thirty second half about to kick off.

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