Biological Invasions

, Volume 9, Issue 7, pp 825–836 | Cite as

The urban fire ant paradox: native fire ants persist in an urban refuge while invasive fire ants dominate natural habitats

  • Robert M. Plowes
  • John G. Dunn
  • Lawrence E. Gilbert
Original Paper


In contrast to the widespread extirpation of native fire ants (Solenopsis geminata) across southern US following the invasion by imported red fire ants (S. invicta), some residential areas of Austin form unexpected refuges for native fire ants. Ironically, these urban environments provide refuges for the native fire ants while adjacent natural habitats have been overrun by invasive fire ants. Resistance to invasive fire ants in these urban areas occurs mainly in older residential properties constructed prior to the S. invicta invasion, while more recent construction has allowed establishment by S. invicta. The invasive ability of S. invicta is often attributed to escape from parasitoids and efficient dispersal of polygyne multiple queen colonies. Here we also show the importance of landscape parameters in the invasion process, where low levels of disturbance and continuous plant cover in older residential areas form possible barriers to colonization. Dense leaf cover (high NDVI) was also found to be associated with native ant refuges. Long term residential land ownership may have resulted in lower recent disturbance levels and increased plant cover that support refuges of native fire ants.


Solenopsisinvicta Solenopsis geminata Fire ant Invasive species Invasibility NDVI Disturbance Polygyne Urban landscape 



This study’s conclusions were based on an accumulation of knowledge about the fire ant invasion at Brackenridge Field Laboratory and in Texas which, in turn was made possible by many years of support from various agencies and foundations as acknowledged in the papers referenced herein. Recent funding was provided by the State of Texas fire ant initiative (FARMAAC), Helen C. Kleberg and Robert J. Kleberg Foundation, USDA and the Lee & Ramona Bass Foundation. E. Le Brun and N. Plowes provided useful comments on the manuscript. Brackenridge Field Laboratory technicians assisted with surveys, data collection and identification work, especially H. Allard. O.M. Gilbert provided pilot study information that stimulated this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. Plowes
    • 1
  • John G. Dunn
    • 1
  • Lawrence E. Gilbert
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TexasAustinUSA

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