- Steven Valles - USDA-ARS, CMAVE, Gainesville, FL
The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren is an invasive species native to South America. The ant was introduced into the United States in the 1930s where damage and control efforts cost an estimated $6 billion annually. Population studies on the two continents have shown that fire ant populations are significantly greater, found in higher densities, possess larger mound volumes, and comprise a larger fraction of the ant community in infested areas within the U.S. These inter-continental disparities support the hypothesis that S. invicta likely escaped its natural enemies during U.S. founding events. Indeed, direct evaluations have shown a paucity of natural enemies in founding populations of S. invicta.
Despite the known usefulness of viruses to control insect pests, viruses have been only recently investigated for use against ants. We are using metagenomics and next generation sequencing to discover new virus natural enemies of the fire ant in its native range with the goal of testing and releasing new viral pathogens into U.S. S. invicta populations to provide natural, sustainable control of this ant.