Magazine article Science News

U.S. Is Biggest Exporter of Fire Ants: DNA Points to South as Source for Recent Global Invasions

Magazine article Science News

U.S. Is Biggest Exporter of Fire Ants: DNA Points to South as Source for Recent Global Invasions

Article excerpt

Genetic evidence now spotlights the United States as the source of recent fire ant invasions in the rest of the world.

The aggressive, stinging fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) aren't native to the United States but rather to a broad swath of South America. Yet the southern United States, invaded by fire ants in the 1930s, has sent off at least eight separate waves of fire ant invasions to other countries in recent years, says entomologist Kenneth Ross of the University of Georgia in Athens. A ninth invasion probably hopscotched from the South to California before hitting Taiwan.

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"It's not good news," Ross says. These waves of ants are now colonizing the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and China, including Hong Kong and Macau, he and his colleagues report in the Feb. 25 Science.

"This study is going to cause quite a stir" says geneticist Michael Goodisman of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, who studies invasive ants. The new fire ant research, he notes, "could have important trade and travel implications."

Regardless of any furor, the study is a valuable step in dealing with the problem, says another invasive-ant biologist, Ben Hoffmann in Darwin, Australia, with the country's CSIRO research service. "We need to know how invasions spread to be able to prevent spread and effectively manage invasions."

Biologists had certainly considered this United States-bridgehead scenario of invasions, Ross says, "but without data, it was anybody's guess. …

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