Field evaluation of Solenopsis invicta virus 3 against its host Solenopsis invicta.
Viruses have been used successfully as biocontrol agents against several insect pests but not ants. Laboratory tests have shown that Solenopsis invicta virus 3 (SINV-3) may be an effective natural control agent against its host, the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren). In this field trial, SINV-3 was released into 12 active S. invicta nests within a 0.088-hectare area in Florida and the impact on the ants monitored. SINV-3 was successfully transmitted, established, and multiplied within treated colonies reaching a maximum mean value of 8.71 × 108 ± 8.26 × 108 SINV-3 genome equivalents/worker ant 77 days after inoculation. SINV-3 was not detected in any of the nests in the control group. A 7-fold decrease in nests was observed in the SINV-3-treated group compared with the untreated control. A correspondingly significant decrease in S. invicta nest size also was observed over the course of the evaluation. Based on the nest rating scale, nest size among those treated with SINV-3 decreased from 3.92 ± 1.24 on day 0 to 1.67 ± 2.06 on day 77, which represents a 57.4% decrease in size. Conversely, the nest rating for the control group increased 9.3%, from 4.42 ± 1.24 on day 0 to 4.83 ± 2.12 on day 77. A follow-up survey of SINV-3-treated and -untreated plots conducted 9 months after initial treatment revealed that fire ant populations rebounded, but at a different rate. A total of 11 and 19 nests were detected in the SINV-3-treated and -untreated areas, respectively. SINV-3 was still detected in the treated area 1.8 years after the initial virus treatment and the virus had spread into the adjacent control plot. Results demonstrate that SINV-3 is an effective natural control agent against the invasive ant, S. invicta; the virus causes no known detrimental ecological impacts, is host specific, and sustained in the environment.