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Science Nation: Fire Ants--Coping With These Invasive Insects

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. A man crouches in a forest.

[explosion]

What we have here is an example of medium-size fire ant colony raid adjacent, interestingly enough, to a native species.

(male narrator) Fire ants can be a nuisance, and their stings painful. Just mention the name and folks reply, "How do we get rid of them?" University of Central Florida entomologist Joshua King says, "Not so fast."

(King) Fire ants have a lot to teach us, as do these ecosystems.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, King and biologist Walter Tschinkel from Florida State University study the ants as an invasive species and also their social structure.

(Tschinkel) This colony was planted about a week ago, and there they are, doing well.

(narrator) King and Tschinkel are "ant gardening" in the Apalachicola National Forest. In this experiment, we have created different kinds of environmental conditions.

(Describer) Tschinkel:

We have shading, and we have tilling the soil so it's a disturbance.

(King) We can keep track of who survives, who doesn't.

(narrator) Invasive fire ants thrive in disturbed areas-- land that's been plowed for farms or cleared for roads and development.

(Describer) King:

There's quite a bit of growing evidence that land use change is one of the, if not the underlying reason for this increase in exotics.

(narrator) For decades, efforts to eradicate fire ants on farms and ranches did nothing but move them around.

(Tschinkel) Chemical control of fire ants-- it's expensive, it's usually inefficient. The fire ant was one of the species that changed our view about how we can deal with insect pests. It shifted our view from eradication to management.

(narrator) King says simple changes, like eliminating central soil depots for road projects, can limit the spread of fire ants. King's team studies ant and termite colony development.

(King) This complex social structure yields amazing ecological results. Termites and ants are some of the most abundant organisms on Earth-- breathtakingly abundant.

(narrator) That, he says, is worth paying attention to.

(Describer) A globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Invasive animals are often most abundant in habitats impacted by humans. Understanding why this is true may reveal important insights about the ecological impact of many invasive species. The invasive fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, is a notoriously pesky species that benefits when humans disturb natural areas. With support from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Joshua King at the University of Central Florida and Dr. Walter Tschinkel at Florida State University have been exploring the underlying causes and consequences of the association of fire ants with human-altered ecosystems. Part of the National Science Foundation Series “Science Nation.”

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
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Episode 2
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Episode 3
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Episode 4
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Episode 5
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Episode 6
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Episode 7
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Episode 8
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Episode 9
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Episode 10
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