Colonies of the red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), an invasive species native to South America, were discovered for the first time in Europe, precisely in Italy. These insects represent a major risk for the economy, the ecosystem and public health…
Researchers from the Barcelona Institute of Evolutionary Biology, in collaboration with two Italian universities, have identified 88 fire ant nests over an area of 4.7 hectares on the banks of a river in Sicily near the city of Syracuse. Residents have been reporting bites from these ants since 2019. According to genetic analysis, these ants likely originate from China or the United States, where they cause around $6 billion in damage each year. Experts estimate that the species could invade 7% of the European continent and potentially half of European urban areas.
New threat for Europe
Bernard Kaufmann, an invasion ecologist at Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University, highlights the risk of the species spreading throughout the Mediterranean region, particularly because Sicily is a major plant exporter for oranges and olive trees. Additionally, if the species spreads to Spain, this country could be one of the most affected due to its favorable climate. The researchers’ analysis also indicates that climate change could increase the species’ potential range to 25% of the continent by 2050.
Red fire ants are also known to crowd out native ants and wildlife, as well as damage electrical equipment. Cleo Bertelsmeier, an invasive insect expert at the University of Lausanne, calls for immediate action to control this invasion. James Wetterer, an entomologist at Florida Atlantic University, notes that the climatic conditions favorable to this ant species have been better studied than probably any other ant species. In other words, we know the damage they can cause…
The researchers behind the new study are planning an eradication campaign in Sicily. They will seek to destroy known nests and monitor the area for several years to ensure that no ants escape. According to Kaufmann, it appears possible to control this invasion, particularly because European regulations were updated last year to require the eradication of four invasive ant species, including S. invicta, within 3 months of their release. discovery.
It’s going to be a daunting task, but there are success stories in the fight against red fire ants. New Zealand is the only country to have completely eradicated these ants after an invasion. For its part, Australia has managed to stop six incursions into its ports since 2001, including one which included at least 370 colonies spread over more than 8,300 hectares. However, the country continues to battle an infestation that has spread to 600,000 hectares, efforts that have cost millions of dollars.