Are fire ants worse this spring because of Hurricane Harvey

first_img Return to article. Long DescriptionFire ant (Photo by Alex Wild/University of Texas)Solomon said research teams began making monthly visits to the Big Thicket test sites just a few weeks after Harvey and will continue collecting samples for one year.“It was a cold winter, and there wasn’t much ant activity,” he said. “As temperatures warm up, we’ll be interested to see which ants come back the soonest and in what numbers.”NSF’s RAPID grants support research of natural disasters and unanticipated events for which time is a factor in gathering data.-30-VIDEO is available at: IMAGES are available for download at: Fire ant (Photo by Alex Wild/University of Texas)” alt=”center_img” /> Michael Saucedo, Tom Miller and Sarah Bengston Return to article. Long DescriptionRice University researchers Michael Saucedo ’17, Tom Miller and Sarah Bengston at Big Thicket National Preserve near Beaumont, Texas. The researchers are studying whether Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented floods gave a competitive boost to invasive fire ants and crazy ants in the preserve. (Photo by Brandon Martin/Rice University)“We’re conducting monthly pitfall sampling at 19 established sites in the Big Thicket, a national preserve near Beaumont,” said Bengston, an ant expert, co-principal investigator on grant and Huxley Research Instructor of BioSciences. “Rice’s team has been working at these same sites for three years, and we know fire ants and tawny crazy ants, which are each invasive species, had begun to penetrate the intact native ecosystems in the park before the hurricane. We now want to know whether Harvey accelerated this invasion process.”The RAPID funding will allow the team to document changes in ant communities and test whether changes in response to the hurricane are transient or represent new stable states.Miller said the researchers also plan to assemble a functional trait database for the ant communities to test whether the Harvey floodwaters favored some types of ant species — such as those with larger bodies or more-protected nests — over others.“There are dozens of native ant species in the preserve that provide valuable ecosystem services like decomposition and pest control,” said Solomon, an ant expert, co-principal investigator on the grant and associate teaching professor of biosciences. “Fire ants and crazy ants, which are each native to South America, are noxious invasive pests that tend to overwhelm and drive out almost all native ant species. If the floods cleaned the slate by drowning all the native ant colonies in the area, our hypothesis is that this may provide a competitive advantage to invaders.” FacebookTwitterPrintEmailAddThislast_img