The red imported fire ant species is a successful invader for several reasons including: its wide range of climate tolerances, broad range of food resources, rapid reproduction, and rapid colony establishment (especially in disturbed areas). Red imported fire ant is an aggressive exotic that alters species composition in infested communities. Studies show that vertebrates may be negatively affected and arthropods are eaten, excluded or out-competed. Red imported fire ant may also have an impact on community function. Perturbation at 1 trophic level may indirectly change a community on other trophic levels. Few quantitative studies exist comparing energy flow in red imported fire ant-infested areas with non-infested areas. This project is a follow up to “Effect Of Red Imported Fire Ants On Habitat Use By Native Small Mammals.” a study by Ellen Pedersen , a Ph. D candidate also in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A & M University. She found that RIFA affected habitat use by pygmy mice, but not by cotton rats. The reason for this is not known. We are exploring possible explanations.
In our research project, the hypotheses being tested include:
(1) plant and animal material baits accessible to ants only will have equal
decomposition rates in three treatment areas, and (2) plant and animal
material baits accessible to vertebrates only will have equal decomposition
rates in three treatment areas.
Our initial goals are: (1) the collection of baseline data on fire ants, native ants, and small mammals, (2) the establishment of a field site with three fire ant density levels, and (3) the development of experimental procedures for determining removal rates of plant and animal material by ants and small mammals.
Information about the competition dynamics between the fire ant and native grassland biota is important for determining the degree of impact of fire ants on wildlife and is one of the areas targeted by the state fire ant initiative.