Nav: Home

Are red imported fire ants all bad?

October 04, 2016

COLLEGE STATION -- Red imported fire ants have earned a justifiably bad rap across the south and most Texans would be hard put to name a single redeeming quality the ants have.

But a team of Texas A&M scientists and a colleague from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge have published a manuscript offering a glimmer of redemption for the invaders. The paper, "Decreased small mammal and on-host tick abundance in association with invasive red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta," was published in the scientific journal Royal Society Biology Letters on Sept. 21. The work and list of collaborators are available at http://bit.ly/2cDdgWy.

Dr. Jessica Light, associate professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist in the department of wildlife and fisheries sciences and corresponding author, said the work granted from the Texas A&M AgriLife Invasive Ant Research Management Project is the first to shed some potential positive light on a much-maligned invader.

"Red imported fire ants are known to predate lots of arthropods, including ticks," Light said. "They've also been shown to change the behavior of small mammals that want to avoid their stings. These small mammals often serve as reservoirs or carriers of tick-borne pathogens that can cause human and animal disease. We wondered if this invasive ant could change the ecosystem in a way to reduce tick-borne disease risk.

The team specifically looked at the effect of red imported fire ants on small mammals, of which many species are carriers of pathogens or microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses capable of causing disease in humans and animals, she said. They also looked at the ticks the animals harbor, which are known vectors of these pathogens. And finally, they looked at the pathogens themselves.

"On plots where we experimentally reduced the ant populations, rodents were nearly twice as abundant as they were on sites with the ants, the control plots," she said. "The rodents were also three times more likely to harbor ticks on plots with reduced fire ants and one species, the fulvous harvest mouse, had a 27-fold increased tick load.

"While testing these ticks for multiple pathogens, we documented one human pathogen, Rickttsia parkeri, which causes a mild form of spotted fever. Given that we detected one human pathogen in this ecosystem, the reduced number of ticks and small mammals in areas where ants are in high abundance could scale up to alter disease risk."

Light said the work was conducted in Southeast Texas on a private ranch in Goliad County and on the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/attwater_prairie_chicken/, where ant suppression is part of their ongoing management plan to protect the endangered Attwater's prairie-chicken.

At each site, live traps were used on two treatment plots and two control plots for a total of 240 traps per site, which were run on two consecutive nights each month from June 2013 until September 2014. Sixty-four percent of the small mammals, mostly cotton rats, were captured on the fire ant-suppressed plots.

"While red imported fire ants have been demonstrated to have negative consequences on the environment such as reducing populations of the endangered Attwater's prairie-chicken, our work points out that a predatory arthropod such as this invasive ant species may be capable of impacting vector-borne disease transmission by altering vector and host dynamics in ways that could reduce disease transmission to both humans and animals."
-end-


Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

Related Pathogens Articles:

Inexpensive, portable detector identifies pathogens in minutes
Most viral test kits rely on labor- and time-intensive laboratory preparation and analysis techniques; for example, tests for the novel coronavirus can take days to detect the virus from nasal swabs.
Outsmarting pathogens
A new influenza strain appears each flu season, rendering past vaccines ineffective.
Autonomous microtrap for pathogens
Antibiotics are more efficient when they can act on their target directly at the site of infestation, without dilution.
Acidic environment could boost power of harmful pathogens
New findings published in PLOS Pathogens suggest lower pH in the digestive tract may make some bacterial pathogens even more dangerous.
On the trail of pathogens in meat, eggs and raw milk
To make food even safer for humans, experts from scientific institutions, food regulatory authorities and the business community will discuss current developments and strategies at the 'Zoonoses and Food Safety' Symposium at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on 4 and 5 November 2019, in Berlin-Marienfelde.
Protozoans and pathogens make for an infectious mix
The new observation that strains of V. cholerae can be expelled into the environment after being ingested by protozoa, and that these bacteria are then primed for colonisation and infection in humans, could help explain why cholera is so persistent in aquatic environments.
Your energy-efficient washing machine could be harboring pathogens
For the first time ever, investigators have identified a washing machine as a reservoir of multidrug-resistant pathogens.
Picky pathogens help non-native tree species invade
Trees have many natural enemies, including pathogens that have evolved to attack certain tree species.
How plague pathogens trick the immune system
Yersinia have spread fear and terror, especially in the past, but today they have still not been completely eradicated.
Metabolomic profiling of antibody response to periodontal pathogens
At the 97th General Session & Exhibition of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR), held in conjunction with the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) and the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for Dental Research (CADR), Jaakko Leskela, University of Helsinki, Finland, gave an oral presentation on 'Metabolomic Profiling of Antibody Response to Periodontal Pathogens.'
More Pathogens News and Pathogens Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.