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Photo: Technician John Davis measures a black imported fire ant mound while entomologist James Vogt records data. Link to photo information
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Researchers Employ Remote Sensing to Track Fire Ants

By Jim Core
May 1, 2003

The latest fire ant suppression technologies are being combined this spring by scientists of the Agricultural Research Service and Tennessee State University to help plant and tree nurseries in Warren County, Tenn., avoid quarantine status.

Counties south of Warren are under partial quarantine to help slow the spread of imported fire ants (IFAs) to other areas of the state. This means nurseries have to treat their soil and stock with the few, costly insecticide treatments approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

ARS researchers in Stoneville, Miss., plan on using recently developed remote sensing techniques to help the Tennessee Department of Agriculture identify high-priority areas in those quarantined counties as part of an areawide program to manage IFAs, according to ARS entomologist James "J.T." Vogt.

Researchers will assess new and emerging bait products, and release parasites and pathogens to attack the ants. Remote sensing of IFA mounds with high-resolution digital imagery will allow researchers to quickly identify and target areas with high IFA population density.

In the United States, there are two types of IFAs--red and black. Red IFAs now infest more than 320 million acres in 12 southeastern states and Puerto Rico. Recently, populations have become established in California and New Mexico. Each year, the ants sting about 40 percent of people in infested areas. The black imported fire ant (BIFA) is currently found only in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. A cross between the two species, the hybrid fire ant, is also established.

The abundance of BIFAs in the Mid South provides scientists at Stoneville's Biological Control of Pests Research Unit an opportunity to evaluate control agents against both ants. The research unit began a five-year project in 2001 to assess the impact of biological control agents used with chemical bait toxicants in managing IFA levels.

Read more about this research in the May issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.