Alleles and algorithms: the role of genetic analyses and remote sensing technology in an ant eradication program.
Eradication programs for invasive ants are often hampered by a lack of effective tools to detect, contain and kill the pests. Among the range of tools employed in the course of a 20-year eradication program for red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, in Australia, two of the most crucial for success are genetic analysis at both individual colony and population scales, and remote sensing for the detection of S. invicta mounds over large areas. Several genetic analyses are used by the program as an everyday operational tool to guide the eradication effort; for example, genotyping of the social form determines where and how far we need to search and treat, whereas nest relatedness derived from microsatellites aids in deciding when and where to target investigations into human-assisted movement of the pest. Microsatellite genotyping can determine the origin of new invasions into the country and has been used to verify the eradication of six distinct incursions of S. invicta in Australia, as well as demonstrating the pressure being exerted on the remaining Queensland population by the current eradication activities. Remote sensing played a key role in delimiting the extent of the S. invicta infestation in southeast Queensland in 2015, and in the future will assist in both delimitation and in verifying eradication of this ant in treatment areas as part of the proof of freedom process. Unquestionably, without these tools, the battle to eradicate S. invicta from Australia would be severely constrained, if not lost. These technologies may be applicable in management or eradication programs for S. invicta worldwide, and potentially for other invasive ant species.