Community volunteers eradicating yellow crazy ants

What do you do when one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species are invading your territory and there is little in the way of outside help? You mobilise your community volunteers of course!

An alarming new infestation of yellow crazy ants (YCA) was identified by residents in Russett Park near Kuranda in 2013, probably transported in building materials from an infestation near Edmonton.   The new infestation was discovered only 400 metres from the World Heritage rainforest boundary and on the banks of the Barron River, increasing the risk that the infestation could rapidly expand and become uncontrollable.

Aggressive, acid-spitting yellow crazy ants typically attack earthworms, lizards, skinks, frogs, bird nests and any accessible sources of protein, and have been known to enter towns and homes in search of food. If left unchecked they can form super colonies that can strip fruit trees and crops, and destroy rainforest ecosystems, advancing hundreds of metres each year.

Local volunteer group Kuranda EnviroCare saw a need for quick locally-led action in Kuranda. They mobilized the local networks to create a YCA Community Taskforce with the idea “We’re affected, we care and we’re not waiting for someone else to get around to fixing it”.

Biosecurity Queensland pulled back from an active YCA eradication program in 2012, when total eradication of this acid-spitting pest was no longer considered possible. The infestation near Edmonton has since grown to over 800ha, including areas within the World Heritage rainforests, surrounding cane fields and homes. The Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA) took up the challenge of continuing the fight, as the world heritage rainforest was under threat.

Kuranda EnviroCare employed a taskforce coordinator with a small grant from Terrain NRM, purchased equipment, and started training volunteers in baiting techniques, conducting delimitation surveys and undertaking a range of regular monitoring programs.

EnviroCare President Cathy Retter said, “From small beginnings, the taskforce has grown to over 100 people from the local community and surrounding areas. WTMA assisted with training and giving people the confidence to take on those aspects of the YCA eradication program which would normally be the role of scientists.”

Information on YCA lifecycle was crucial to maximize the volunteer efforts, and a local community fund was started with $5,000 from Kuranda Envirocare. Local crowdfunding provided $5,000, and the small local Kuranda paper tipped in $10,000 to match community donations dollar for dollar. Since so little is known about this acid-spraying pest in the Australian environment, this money has been used to ramp up the under-funded research by Dr Lori Lach at James Cook University in Cairns.

Dr Lach said the community funding initiative was an indication of how seriously local people took the threat of yellow crazy ants. “For a community group to raise these funds is really impressive. It’s already making a difference because it’s come at just the right time”.

“This volunteer taskforce definitely punches above its weight given what we have achieved. Our volunteers contribute skills in ecology, vegetation management, machinery operation, administration, film, storytelling and poetry and journalism. We have called on all of these skills at some stage.”

The exciting news is that significant advances have been made and the yellow crazy ants may even have been eradicated from some areas within the far north Queensland World Heritage Areas. Ant infestations are notoriously difficult to contain and eradicate, and several years of intensive monitoring will be required to validate these achievements.

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