Fire Ants – The Problem With the Solution

Fire Ants – The Problem With the Solution

Biological control is the tricky business of using one kind of organism to ride herd on another organism that you don’t want around. Thing is, it’s often hard to predict any side effects of such a strategy. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet, presented by Dumont. Larry Gilbert is an ecologist at the University of Texas in Austin. He’s been exploring ways to control Brazilian fire ants, which for the past sixty years have been invading the southern United States and are out-competing native fire ants. To help combat the invaders, he’s proposed importing another insect from Brazil — the parasitic phorid fly.

“The first thing we did was to do rather rigorous tests of species, putting them in with the ants under different circumstances and making sure that we were going to work with species that are very very specialized, not only on fire ants, but on certain species of fire ants. Because in fact, if you want to shift the balance of power between native ants and imported ants, if you have something that attacks both, you haven’t shifted the balance of power.”

By testing thoroughly before there’s any release, and by knowing the ecology of the phorid flies in their native land, Gilbert says it will minimize chances that an introduction of the flies would get out of hand.

“We have picked a group of organisms, these phorid flies, which are across their entire genus, all the species that we know about are specialized on ants. There’s a history of knowledge about them that goes back a hundred years. And in that whole swath of history they just attack ants. Like wise, the species we’re working with are basically restricted to fire ants. And so our worst case scenario is they move over to the native fire ants. Well, sorry to tell you the native fire ants are getting wiped out by the imported fire ant faster than any phorid fly could do it.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by Dumont, bringing you the miracles of science for 200 years, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Fire Ants - The Problem With the Solution

In attempting biological controls we may be unknowingly shifting an ecological balance.
Air Date:06/23/2004
Scientist:
Transcript:

Fire Ants - The Problem With the Solution

Biological control is the tricky business of using one kind of organism to ride herd on another organism that you don't want around. Thing is, it's often hard to predict any side effects of such a strategy. I'm Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet, presented by Dumont. Larry Gilbert is an ecologist at the University of Texas in Austin. He's been exploring ways to control Brazilian fire ants, which for the past sixty years have been invading the southern United States and are out-competing native fire ants. To help combat the invaders, he's proposed importing another insect from Brazil -- the parasitic phorid fly.

"The first thing we did was to do rather rigorous tests of species, putting them in with the ants under different circumstances and making sure that we were going to work with species that are very very specialized, not only on fire ants, but on certain species of fire ants. Because in fact, if you want to shift the balance of power between native ants and imported ants, if you have something that attacks both, you haven't shifted the balance of power."

By testing thoroughly before there's any release, and by knowing the ecology of the phorid flies in their native land, Gilbert says it will minimize chances that an introduction of the flies would get out of hand.

"We have picked a group of organisms, these phorid flies, which are across their entire genus, all the species that we know about are specialized on ants. There's a history of knowledge about them that goes back a hundred years. And in that whole swath of history they just attack ants. Like wise, the species we're working with are basically restricted to fire ants. And so our worst case scenario is they move over to the native fire ants. Well, sorry to tell you the native fire ants are getting wiped out by the imported fire ant faster than any phorid fly could do it."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by Dumont, bringing you the miracles of science for 200 years, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music