Research at UMaine

Dr. Ellie Groden and her colleague, Dr. Frank Drummond, their students and staff have been studying many aspects of the European fire ant (EFA) ecology and management since 2002. Research has focused on:

Understanding factors that have contributed to EFA success as invaders.
We have been interested in comparisons between EFA’s native and introduced ranges relative to climate, inter-specific and intra-specific competition and aggression, (Garnas 2005, Garnas et al. 2008),
and regulation by natural enemies (Evans et al. 2010, Yan 2005).
We are also studying colony movement patterns and its influence on the rate of spread of this pest ant.

Determining the impact of EFA invasion on native fauna and flora.
Our studies have revealed significant local effects of EFA infestations depressing the abundance and diversity of native ants (Garnas 2005),
and flower visits by native pollinators (O’Neal et al. Unpublished data).
Infestations also appear to significantly enhance populations of tended aphids (McPhee 2008).

• Developing strategies to manage EFA populations and limit their further spread.
We have been investigating the feeding ecology and bait preferences of EFA in order to determine the most attractive baits that are delivered to the colonies.
We have also evaluated both liquid and solid bait stations for targeted delivery to foragers.
We continue efforts to develop potential biological controls for these ants, focusing on the identification and evaluation of the impacts of insect pathogens isolated in their native and introduced ranges, and understanding mechanisms (behavioral and chemical) that EFA uses for defense against disease.

Past and Current Research Support:

Maine Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station,
School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine,
National Park Service at Acadia National Park,
U.S. EPA Pesticide Stewardship Program
USDA NE IPM Competitive Grants Program

USDA IR-4 Program


Current Student(s) and Research Assistants:

Kerry Bernard (M.S.) Investigated the use of plant extracts as repellents to fire ant colonization and foraging. She has continued the long term monitoring of artificial substrates to study the dynamics of colony movement in time and space and the factors influencing nest site selection. Kerry will be managing the upcoming 2011 field trials.

Jen Lund, Research Technician for the Ant Lab at the University of Maine.  Jennifer is currently working on several research projects, including investigating the movement of food resources throughout ant colonies, locating new infestation sites in the state of Maine, identification and use of nematodes for biological control, testing pesticide effectiveness in controlling ant populations, identification of new fungal pathogens, and management of ant infestations using fungal pathogens paired with bait stations.  She is also responsible for helping undergraduate students develop and carry out capstone research projects on Myrmica rubra.  Besides her research duties, Jennifer participates in many outreach activities including “Bug Maine-ia”, Expanding you Horizons, and 4H Edge.

Tamara Levitsky

Tamara Levitsky, Research Technician for the Ant Lab at the University of Maine. Tamara is the contact for public inquiry  about EFA including confirmation of insect samples that are sent. She manages lab research, trains laboratory personnel and handles the cataloging and maintenance of fungal cultures used as biological control agents against the ants. She has been currently involved with surveying the distribution and management of a newly reported infestation of an inland site. She participates in community events such as the state sponsored event “Bug Maine-ia” and public talks to educate about the ants. Having previous experience with pests in agriculture, she finds working with Myrmica rubra a very challenging problem.
(Education B.S. Sustainable Agriculture 1995; currently working on M.S.)

Recent Students:

Griff Gilbert (M.S.P. Microbiology 2010). Explored microorganisms associated with European fire ants (Non-thesis).

Katie McPhee (M.S. Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2008) Studied relationship between European fire ants and homopterans.
Thesis: McPhee, K.E. 2008. Interactions between homoptera and the European red ant, Myrmica rubra L. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), on Mount Desert Island, Maine. M.S. Thesis, University of Maine. 87 pp.

H. Alejandro Arevalo (Post Doctoral Research Assistant) Studied feeding preferences and management of EFA and managed extension component of “Pest Ants in the Suburban/Urban Landscape”, including survey of pest ants in the landscape in Maine, New York and Delaware.

Carrie Graham (M.S. Entomology, 2007) Studied European fire ants behavioral defenses against diseases; developed graphics for European fire ant brochures and publications, and models for insects displays.
Thesis: Graham, C.E. 2007. Necrophoresis and the Behavioral Responses of the European Red Ant, Myrmica rubra L. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) to the Fungal Entomopathogen Beauveria bassiana (Bals.) Vuill. M.S. Thesis, University of Maine, Orono, ME. 53 pp.

Jeff Garnas (M.S. Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2005) studied intra- and interspecific aggression between populations of EFA and native ants in Maine, and the impacts of EFA on native fauna.
Thesis: Garnas, J.R. 2005. European fire ants on Mount Desert Island, Maine: Population structure, mechanisms of competition and community impacts of Myrmica rubra L. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). M.S. Thesis, University of Maine. 157 pp.

Shicai Yan (M.S. Entomology, 2005) studied the impact of local isolates of Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae on EFA.
Thesis: Yan, S. 2005. Evaluation Of Local Pathogenic Fungi, Boric acid, And Their Potential Synergism For Control Of The European Fire Ant, Myrmica rubra (L.). University of Maine M.S. Thesis, Orono, ME. 79 pp.