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NZ team targeting ant threat in Pacific

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/04/2017

Pacific Biosecurity, operating out of Victoria University, has been collaborating with regional partners over the past two years to control the ants on Atafu in Tokelau. © Getty Images Pacific Biosecurity, operating out of Victoria University, has been collaborating with regional partners over the past two years to control the ants on Atafu in Tokelau. New Zealand efforts in the Pacific against yellow crazy ants, an invasive species that destroys crops and blinds livestock, are proving a success, researchers say.

Pacific Biosecurity, a non-profit organisation operating out of Victoria University, is halfway through a five-year project funded by the New Zealand Aid Programme.

Pacific Biosecurity programme manager Dr Monica Gruber says the team has been collaborating with regional and local partners over the past two years to control the ants on Atafu in Tokelau and eradicate them on Kiritimati in Kiribati.

"We are delighted to report that we have significantly reduced ant numbers so that they are no longer causing problems," she said.

Dr Gruber said the acid-spraying yellow crazy ants posed a significant threat to local ecosystems.

She said they were capable of mass attacking and killing animals over 500 times their size, including crabs, and nesting seabirds and their chicks.

However, communities weren't able to manage the ant populations because they couldn't afford pesticides or other methods of control.

As well as helping with control, the NZ Aid Programme funding had enabled Pacific Biosecurity to develop the Pacific Invasive Ant Toolkit.

The toolkit is an online collection of resources to help biosecurity staff, consultants, village councils and homeowners to prevent and control invasive ants.

Pacific Biosecurity will also use some of the funding to deal with the yellow crazy ant problem in Tuvalu.

Later this year, the team will work with the Pacific Community (SPC), the region's principal scientific and technical organisation, to target mealybugs on Fakaofo in Tokelau.

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