It’s an ant invasion

ANTS are the “little things that run the world” says ant ecologist Jonathan Majer.

But, warns the renowned WA authority on all things invertebrate, local species which are vitally important for plant and soil health are in danger of being run out of town by invading species.

Prof Majer says native ants are the earliest form of pest control, help disperse seeds, have a role in pollinating some flowers, keep plants healthy by delivering nutrients to the roots, and are good tucker for other insects, birds and reptiles.

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“The world would collapse without insects and especially ants,” he says.

Prof Majer says there are already local examples where native plants have died off because there were no ants to pollinate them.

He says that disrupts the food chain, which in extreme cases could lead to famine. He points to areas of China where humans have to pollinate plants because bees have disappeared.

“Can you imagine that happening here,” he ponders.

There are about 900 species of ants in WA, while a Perth garden might have 10 to 25 species of natives.

Introduced species include the coastal brown and Argentine ants, which continue to spread and displace natives. Prof Majer says they were likely to have been accidentally introduced by trade such as shipping, importing and people bringing in plant material.

The coastal brown and Argentine ants don’t pollinate or add nutrients as effectively as natives, and not having natural predators, they’ve got the drop on the locals and their population can increase unchecked.

Prof Majer said if native ants disappear it would badly effect WA’s ecosystem.

“Good quarantine can help,” he said.

“The community should be vigilant to spot invasive ants.”

Entomologist Marc Widmer from WA’s agriculture department says people send in 500 to 1000 samples a year of ants because WA is “ant rich.”

Mr Widmar said the best way to control exotic ants is with targeted baits and growing native gardens, as invasive ants are often found in disturbed areas.

To learn the difference between ant species, head to the WA agriculture department’s website, or to dob in a pesky ant colony, call the department on 9368 3333.


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