The urban fire ant paradox: native fire ants persist in an urban refuge while invasive fire ants dominate natural habitats

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In contrast to the widespread extirpation of native fire ants (Solenopsis geminata) across southern US following the invasion by imported red fire ants (S. invicta), some residential areas of Austin form unexpected refuges for native fire ants. Ironically, these urban environments provide refuges for the native fire ants while adjacent natural habitats have been overrun by invasive fire ants. Resistance to invasive fire ants in these urban areas occurs mainly in older residential properties constructed prior to the S. invicta invasion, while more recent construction has allowed establishment by S. invicta. The invasive ability of S. invicta is often attributed to escape from parasitoids and efficient dispersal of polygyne multiple queen colonies. Here we also show the importance of landscape parameters in the invasion process, where low levels of disturbance and continuous plant cover in older residential areas form possible barriers to colonization. Dense leaf cover (high NDVI) was also found to be associated with native ant refuges. Long term residential land ownership may have resulted in lower recent disturbance levels and increased plant cover that support refuges of native fire ants.

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