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The Fire Ant (general overview and personal perspectives)



The Fire Ant is one of the most feared migratory arthropods in North America. The first non-native species was introduced into the Port of Mobile, Alabama, starting in 1919, through soil ballast, from South American ships, being dumped ashore.  The black fire ant (Solenopsis richteri Forel) arrived sometime in 1919, and the red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) sometime in the late 1930s; both much more aggressive and harsh than their two sister species of fire ants, the Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis xyloni McCook) and the Southern fire ant (Solenopsis geminata Fabricius), which are considered native to North America.  The presence of imported fire ants within United States boarders was first reported in 1929.

Currently, the IFA (imported fire ant) is found in eleven states (over 300 million acres) , with sporadic, isolated showings as far west as California and as far north as Kansas and Maryland.   The surge in fire ant migration came right after world war two, with the housing boom.  The migration of fire ants was mostly associated with the mass movement of grass sod and decorative plants for landscaping purposes.   However, In 1958, the Federal Fire Ant Quarantine was implemented [to] try to limit the spread of fire ants from the quarantined areas.  Hay, sod, plants and used soil moving equipment must me inspected and/or treated before being moved out of the quarantine area.   The IFA migration methods include seasonal relocations, migration in nursery stock, natural flights, and after floods rafting on water.  Ants can be blown by the wind 12 miles during mating flights.  They can hitchhike on birds [or other animals] or mass together to form a floating ball to ride out a flood.   It is estimated that a fire ant colony can expand 20-30 miles per year based on mating flights alone.

The IFA migration fear is due to damage to people, but also damage to crops and property.  Currently, the IFA is known as damaging 57 different species of cultivated plants  including wheat, cotton, corn, sorghum seed, soybean, blueberry, peanut, sunflower, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, pecan, eggplant, okra, strawberry, and potato  in addition to property, fire ants have been associated with may outdoor electrical equipment, due to their strong attraction to electrical and magnetic fields and impulses.  The effected items where fire ants have been known to nest and be found include: gasoline pumps, traffic lights, electrical and telephone transformers/boxes, air conditions (many, many cases) heat pumps, TVs, computers, walls and plumbing insulation, water meters, insulation of electrical wiring causing electrical disruptions, and beside and beneath roadways.  There have been reported cases of roadways collapsing because of fire ants removing massive amounts of soil beneath the road.  Because of their mounds and nesting habits, fire ants have caused many closing of athletic fields, school playgrounds, and campgrounds (much of this closing is due to the fear and stigma behind the fire ant.  This fear and stigma will be discussed later.)

More than its damage-causing tendency, the fire ant is feared because of its fierce sting.  The fire ant sting is characteristic, with its fiery burning sensation, giving the ant its (common) name.  Areas where there is a large colony can, and should be, considered dangerous.  In infested areas, fire ant stings occur more frequently than bee, wasp, hornet, and yellowjacket stings.  Stepping on a fire and mound is almost unavoidable, especially when walking in heavily infested areas.  Furthermore, many mounds are not easily seen, with many lateral tunnels extending several feet away from the mound just beneath the soil surface.  Ants defend these tunnels as part of their mound.   The ant grabs onto the skin with barbed mandibles, then doubles over its abdomen and stings with it stinger (an ovipositor, considering the only fire ants that sting are the workers, who are sterile females.)  The fire ant will sting even after its venom sack is depleted of its venom.  It is known that once a fire ant nest is disturbed, or one ant releases an alarm pheromone, ants will swarm the nest and the area around it, in defense, for over 8 minutes.  In the U.S, they will storm anything that threatens their mound or looks like food, ... more

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Ecological Restoration

The definition of ecological restoration can be defined in many different ways. The definition that suites this paper the best is as follows. Restoration is "the practice of reestablishing the historic plant and animal communities of a given area or region and the renewal of the ecosystem and cultural functions necessary to maintain these communities now and into the future." Restoration is practiced in all sorts of ecosystems so that they do not disappear in the future. Although much time, effort, and money is put into these different ecosystems it is almost impossible to ever completely restore them to how they were before humans started effecting the earth's environment.
In 1905, Florida elected Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who campaigned on a promise to drain the Everglades. He didn't, but over the next century, others almost did. Dams, canals, and levees have carved up most of the Everglades, which once covered almost 9 million acres. Everglades National Park protects only about a sixth of the historic Everglades area. Much of the rest has been planted with sugarcane, housing developments, and amusement parks.
Today, the Everglades is at the beginning of the largest ecological restoration effort in history. Many public and private projects are already under way, and in July of 1999, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will submit to Congress a proposal for a 20-year, $8 billion massive replumbing of South Florida. The plan, optimistic and desperate at the same time, includes some of the most ambitious public works projects ever. This venture is designed to repair the damage from another one of the world's largest public works projects, the corps' midcentury effort to reengineer the Everglades. "We're at a crossroads right now," says Michael L. Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. "We have the opportunity to reverse 50 to 75 years of degradation of the Everglades ecosystem."
The Everglades once meandered over most of South Florida. The flat state is rimmed with slight rises on the east and west coasts, creating a wide, shallow valley. To the north, and slightly uphill, Lake Okeechobee released water that mingled with rain to form a wide, slow-moving "river of grass," as early conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas named the Everglades. Imagine a grassy sheet of water 60 miles wide and 6 inches deep. A given drop of rain could take a year to glide south from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Keys. In the age of ecological awareness, air conditioning, and DEET mosquito repellent, the Everglades inspire all of us. Early settlers, however, saw the Everglades as one big, soggy, malaria-infested impediment to prosperity. In the mid-1880s, the state offered Everglades's land, cheap, to anyone who would drain it. These people would drain as much of the land as they could because they did not see the future effects they were making to the environment. The main change was the flow of water in the swamp areas and now the land is trying to restore itself but it can't because of the new seasonal cycle. Everglades's wildlife depends on this seasonal cycle, says ornithologist Stuart L. Pimm of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. During nesting season, wading birds need relatively low water levels that concentrate fish in shallow pools. The birds situate their nests near these reliable food sources. Too much drainage, however, has created frequent bone-dry periods from which fish populations can't bounce back. Both the fish and the birds suffer. Artificially high water levels can also harm wildlife. The endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow, for example, builds its nest a few inches above the water. When the water in a parcel of Everglades rises too rapidly, the nestlings drown. Populations of wading birds in the Everglades are down at least 90 percent in the past 50 years, largely because of changes in water flow. Even in the 15 years that Pimm has been doing aerial surveys of the park, he has seen the number of wading birds decline. This shows how man must correct the water drainage systems so that we can have clean water and still help out the natural environment.
One of the most creative, untested water-storage techniques proposes plumbing on ... more

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