More rubbish from the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Science Team. Dr Wylie and co-authors say genetic analyses and remote sensing technology are crucial to the eradication program. A CSIRO review in 2020 said chasing the wrong genetic type of fire ant has put the program at risk. In 2018 remote sensing technology experts say it cannot find fire ant nests. Two expensive technologies create jobs for scientists while fire ants continue to spread out of control. Time for a Royal Commission.
In July 2021, Ross Wylie, Jane Oakey and Elizabeth R. Williams from the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program and the Animal Biosecurity and Welfare Unit in the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries wrote: “Alleles and algorithms: The role of genetic analyses and remote sensing technology in an ant eradication program” in NeoBiota 66: 55-73 (2021).
Eradication programs for invasive ants are often hampered by a lack of effective tools to detect, contain and kill the pests.
Fact check: As Chair of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s Scientific Advisory Panel in 2002, Dr Wylie knows that national and international experts said it was too late to eradicate a large, entrenched infestation, the result of multiple incursions. They recommended tightly containing the infestation and suppressing it with repeated baiting. Dr Wylie knows an eradication program was the wrong tool.
Among the range of tools employed in the course of a 20-year eradication program for red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, in Australia, two of the most crucial for success are genetic analysis at both individual colony and population scales and remote sensing for the detection of S. invicta mounds over large areas.
Fact check: A five year, $123.4m program to eradicate a 40,000ha infestation that has blown out to a 20 year, $600+m program as fire ants now infest over 650,000ha of south-east Queensland is evidence the eradication effort has inevitably failed.
…genotyping of the social form determines where and how far we need to search and treat ….nest relatedness …aids in deciding when and where to target investigations into human-assisted movement of the pest. … demonstrating the pressure being exerted on the remaining Queensland population by the current eradication activities.
In 2016, Dr Wylie claimed the shift in the genetic diversity of the population from a mixture of monogyne form fire ants (low density, high dispersal ability – spread by flight) and polygyne form fire ants (high density, low dispersal ability – spread by budding) to a mostly monogyne form is evidence the eradication effort is effective.
The review of the program’s science by CSIRO in January 2020 said a low density fire ant infestation was not evidence the program was working – it was evidence of a monogyne population. CSIRO said the program’s emphasis on a polygyne population at the expense of a monogyne population has had a serious impact on the operation of the program. The program imposes movement restrictions around infestations relevant only to the low dispersal ability of the polygyne form, not the high dispersal ability of the monogyne form, whose queens can fly 5km or more from their home nest. Consequently, fire ants have continued to spread. CSIRO said the program’s use of visual inspections of properties to determine if they are infested would not detect incipient monogyne nests. So, fire ants have continued to spread.
Remote sensing played a key role in delimiting the extent of the S invicta infestation in south-east Queensland in 2015….
Fact check. The extent of the fire ant infestation in south-east Queensland has increased year on year, for 20 years, from 40,000 ha to over 650,000ha now. It has never been delimited.
Trials of remote-sensing technology between 2009 to 2015 identified 5,200,000 potential fire ant nests that were mostly rocks and cow pats, found 38 actual fire ant nests on 23 sites and, as the infestation blew out from 90,000ha to 400,000ha, missed finding actual nests.
An assessment of the technology in 2018 by Outline Global Pty Ltd said the basic premise that fire ant nests could be detected with thermal imaging because they are warmer than their surrounds during cooler months, was false. Soil clumps, cow pats, rocks and wood were also warmer than their surrounds and the technology identified them as fire ant nests: ie the technology identified virtually everything as a fire ant nest but missed finding actual fire ant nests because it identified them as clumps of soil. So fire ants keep spreading.
….Unquestionably, without these tools, the battle to eradicate (red imported fire ants) from Australia would be severely constrained, if not lost.
Fact check: As Chair of the program’s Scientific Advisory Panel and a member of the 2006 independent scientific review of the program, Dr Wylie knows the program has failed because it did not implement the sound scientific advice, the right tool, offered by US experts in 2001.
The 2006 independent scientific review team said fire ants were making a resurgence on properties that had been treated and fire ants were being detected outside the program’s treatment area. The 2006 scientific review team, which included Dr Wylie, said ‘The option with the highest probability of eliminating all remaining inliers (re-infestations) and outliers (new infestations) would be to treat the entire region of the infestation (approx. 150,000ha) by air. We estimate that 6-9 rounds of treatment over 2-3 years would cost $70-100m’ In effect they said ‘Start again and do what we told you to do in the first place’ with no mention of genetic analyses or remote sensing technology. Dr Wylie knows the program has never used the right tool.
Two expensive technologies – genetic analyses and remote sensing technology – have done nothing to eradicate fire ants, fire ants have kept spreading, but they have created jobs for a large science team.
Time for a Royal Commission to hold the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s Science Team to account.
Alleles and algorithms: The role of genetic analyses and remote sensing technology in an ant eradication program. Ross Wylie, Jane Oakey, Elizabeth R. Williams National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program and Animal Biosecurity and Welfare, Biosecurity Queensland, Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. July 2021 NeoBiota 66: 55-73 (2021)
27th September 2021