Leading scientists regroup on fire ants as eradication efforts show promise

A team of leading international and Australian scientists are meeting in Brisbane today (Tuesday, 29 October) to guide the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in its battle against one of the world’s most destructive pests.

The National Exotic Invasive Ant Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) provides valuable advice to the program — which is now in its third year of a 10-year plan to eradicate fire ants from South East Queensland — including strategies for the next stage of the eradication process.

The program’s Steering Committee Chair Dr Wendy Craik said they believed they were close to wiping out fire ants in parts of the western area of the infestation and were seeking the advice of the SAG on the best way to validate the results.

“Our strategy of eradicating fire ants from the west of the infestation is starting to achieve good results — locals are telling us ‘there used to be fire ants, now there are none’, she said.

“We’re now carrying out what we hope to be the final rounds of bait treatment in parts of the Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and Ipswich City local government areas.

“Residents are telling us the treatment is working, but before we can move on and tackle the next area of the infestation we need to be certain that our treatment has worked and the fire ants have been eradicated.

“That’s why the work of the SAG is so important to the success of the program.

“At their meeting today they’ll be discussing the science behind how we can verify that the fire ants have been eradicated from the area we’ve been treating.

“Among some of the methods they will be looking at is the amount of sampling we need to do to have confidence that our treatment has worked.

“Their work is vital in ensuring that the program remains on track to eradicate fire ants throughout South East Queensland,” she said.

Dr Craik said that the experts on SAG brought a wealth of experience to the program.

“The people in the group are among some of the leading fire ant and invasive ant experts in the world,” she said.

“They include US Department of Agriculture Research Entomologist David Oi, who is based at the University of Florida, where they have had many years of dealing with fire ants.

“Also on the group is New Zealand based Dr Monica Gruber who has been researching ways to prevent the spread of invasive ant species, like the fire ant, across the Pacific region. We also lucky enough to have the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Principal Research Scientist Dr Ben Hoffmann  in the group — he has a particular research focus on invasive ants.

“These experts, together with the other people on the group, work with the program’s own scientific and managerial team to make sure that everything we do is under-pinned by the best science available.

“They advise on best practice for treating fire ants, surveillance methods, the safe movement of fire ant carriers like soil, and the requirements for declarations of ‘proof of freedom’ from fire ant infestations,” said Dr Craik.

The SAG meets every six months to look at the fire ant eradication program.

It was formed by the independent National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Steering Committee, who oversee the implementation of the fire ant eradication plan, to provide specialist scientific advice on exotic invasive ant eradication.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication program is a nationally cost-shared eradication program delivered by Biosecurity Queensland on behalf of the Australian Government and all state and territory governments.

Report fire ants, visit daf.qld.gov.au/fireants or call 13 25 23.

Find out more about fire ants and the program.

Contact: National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program

Mobile: 0459 855 046