Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Invasive species: Those who live together invade better

13.09.2002


While the spread of imported fire ants has received much public attention, another invader has been quietly sucking the juices from plants in our lawns and fields: a legless mealybug. In a recent study published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed journal Ecology, scientists have discovered that these bugs may be a possible key to the success of the infamous invasive fire ants.



"Widespread association of the invasive ant Solenopsis invicta with an invasive mealybug," a study by Ken R. Helms and S. Bradleigh Vinson of Texas A&M University, started after the scientists noticed mealybugs and aphids living in underground shelters close to fire ant colonies.

"It seemed clear that there was potentially something important to it all," said Helms.


Helms and Vinson studied grasses and plants from four sites in east Texas, looking for mealybugs and aphid colonies on or near the base of plants. They took samples of mealybugs and aphids from over 2100 shelters around 86 fire ant mounds throughout the spring, summer, and fall, when the ants are most active. With the mass of bugs they collected, they went to work determining how many and what types of aphids and mealybugs were present. During their study, Vinson and Helms also noticed the ants built the shelters for the other insects out of nearby materials on the ground. The researchers found that almost 70% of the biomass collected from the underground shelters near the ant colonies was the invasive mealybug Antonia graminis.

Of Asian origin, these legless creatures were first noticed in the US in the 1940’s. How exactly they entered the United States and spread is unclear. A. graminis, currently exists in over 80 countries around the world, a successful and well traveled invader. Native aphids and other native varieties of mealybugs, some with legs, others without, were found in the shelters too, but nowhere near the amount of the legless invader.

The researchers aren’t sure why the ants build the shelters for these other insects. Some of the colonies of imported fire ants were observed tending these insects on plants, without shelters. Such a symbiotic relationship may allow the ants to feed without the dangers associated with crossing across the ground outside to reach aphid and mealybug colonies on exposed plants, as well as protect the aphids and mealybugs from predation. Avoiding higher temperatures and inclement weather could also be a benefit for all the species involved. Yet, whether the ants create the shelters so aphids and mealybugs can be attended more safely, or whether the ants are exhibiting a general habit of covering and exploiting long-lived food sources, remains unstudied.

The mealybugs do appear to add to the success of the ants however. Using previous studies of other ant-aphid relations, Helms and Vinson determined approximately how much honeydew, or energy, the aphids and mealybugs would produce for the ants. They discovered that an average of 32% of the daily energy for a fire ant colony comes from A. graminis alone. Vinson and Helms investigated this link further by surveying sites throughout the southeastern US. They discovered similar relationships between the ants’ shelter building and mealybugs.

"Associations between some invasive species might be crucial to their success. Because of human commerce, species are frequently transported outside their native ranges, but very few actually become established at their new location, and of those, very few become successful enough to be considered invasive," stated Helms in a recent interview. "Both S. invicta and A. graminis are major invasive species, and our study shows that their association could be an important factor in explaining their success in the southeast United States."

The imported fire ant’s track through the US is well recorded. Native to South America, they entered the US between 1933 and 1945 in Mobile, Alabama and then spread throughout the southeastern US and California. Unlike the legless mealybug, imported fire ants have only managed to gain a strong foothold in the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and are starting to spread into Australia. A. graminis may be an important food source for the ants, and part of the reason they have been so successful in the southeastern US.

According to the researchers, other successful invasive ant species have also been seen tending aphids and mealy bugs, including invasive ant species that live in similar ranges to the invasive mealybug. Few studies have really delved into any possible links, however.

Fire ants have long been a problem, disabling native ant populations and harming humans, pets, livestock, and other living organisms. The mealybugs pose a problem by feeding upon and damaging agriculturally important grasses such as those used for cattle grazing, as well as those used in lawns and on golf courses. The relation between invasive species doesn’t just end with the ants and mealybugs, though.

According to Helms, "One interesting thing about where these invasive mealybugs is that they live on grasses that are mostly non-native. In fact, Bermuda grass is a major, if not the major, grass used in pastures, lawns, and golf courses in the southeast US, and the greatest recorded density of the invasive mealybug on grasses in the US is on Bermuda grass."

Annie Drinkard | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esa.org.

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Listening in: Acoustic monitoring devices detect illegal hunting and logging
14.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht How fires are changing the tundra’s face
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>