Targeting tiny Terrors in the Pacific


Published Apr 11, 2017

Ants in New Zealand might be annoying, but in the Pacific, invasive ant species are tiny terrors that are destroying food crops, blinding pets and livestock, and forcing people off their land. 

Pacific Biosecurity, a non-profit organisation operating out of Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Biological Sciences and supported by Viclink, Victoria University’s commercialisation office, is halfway through a five-year project funded by the New Zealand Aid Programme to improve capacity to deal with invasive ants—and the results so far are positive. 

We’ve been collaborating with regional and in-country partners over the last two years to control yellow crazy ants on Atafu, Tokelau and eradicate them in Kiritimati, Kiribati” says Dr Monica Gruber, Pacific Biosecurity’s Programme Manager.

“We are delighted to report that we have significantly reduced ant numbers so that they are no longer causing problems.”

The acid-spraying yellow crazy ants are capable of mass attacking and killing animals over 500 times their size—including crabs, and nesting seabirds and their chicks—so they are a real threat to local ecosystems. 

“Despite the huge impact of these pests, communities weren’t able to do anything to manage the ant populations because they couldn’t afford pesticides or other methods of ant control,” says Dr Gruber. 

However, the New Zealand Aid Programme funding enabled Pacific Biosecurity to help with control of the ants, and develop the Pacific Invasive Ant Toolkit (PIAT), a website and a collection of resources designed to help biosecurity staff, consultants, village councils and homeowners to prevent and control invasive ants in the Pacific.

Currently, the toolkit is being rolled out to in-country and regional agency partners through a series of workshops. The workshops cover how to prevent ant problems, including community awareness raising and biosecurity improvements, and how to manage the problems when they occur, including determining the best practice method of treatment and using pesticides safely and effectively.   

“The results we’ve experienced, and the feedback we’ve been getting, says that our work is having a positive impact,” says Dr Gruber. “Our in-country partners appreciate the resources we’ve created to enable them to more easily identify invasive ants, carry out risk assessments, and undertake programmes to control invasive ants”.

She says that because Pacific Biosecurity has already met its goals for control of yellow crazy ants in Atafu, Tokelau, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has given them permission to allocate some of the surplus funds into Tuvalu. Work is about to begin to build capacity to deal with yellow crazy ants there. 

Also, later in the year, the team will work with colleagues from the Biosecurity and Trade Support Team at the Pacific Community (SPC) to implement an integrated pest management programme for mealybugs in Fakaofo, Tokelau. 

Dr Gruber says the team is grateful to Viclink for helping them to achieve what they have so far. “It was Viclink that advised us to set up our group as a distinct entity, and then helped us to apply for the funding. There’s always a risk involved in any new initiative, but they’ve shown complete faith in us all along, and given us the freedom to be creative about designing and implementing solutions.” 

For more information about the initiative, visit the Pacific Biosecurity website or contact Dr Monica Gruber at monica.gruber@vuw.ac.nz.