Trapping voracious fire ants accidentally imported in a ship’s ballast to the United States in the 1930s has helped the recovery of an endangered prairie chicken in Texas and could help other wildlife, according to research released Thursday.
Red imported fire ants have damaged agriculture, soil and wildlife in the southeastern United States, costing the Texas economy alone about $1.2 billion annually. The new research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that by laying traps to kill fire ants, some of the damage can be prevented.
In Texas, the fire ants have largely consumed insects that are the main food source for baby Attwater Prairie Chickens, said Terry Rossignol, manager of the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.
After researchers laid fire ant traps, their findings were surprising. Areas with traps had two times more insects and about twice the variety compared to those without, Rossignol said.
Better yet, survival of Attwater chicks also increased. By 2010, the survival rate was comparable to a historic brood of chicks, and in 2011, researchers counted 82 birds on the refuge, the most since 1990, Rossignol said.
“If the control of fire ants to increase the insect population is what it takes in order for the chicks to survive, then it would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the recovery of the species,” Rossingol said, adding, “But we are aware of the fact that this is a grander scale issue that is not only affecting the Attwater prairie chicken, but other wildlife, bobwhite quail, white tail deer, frogs and toads.”