Misapplied management makes matters worse: Spatially explicit control leverages biotic interactions to slow invasion

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A wide range of approaches has been used to manage the spread of invasive species, yet invaders continue to be a challenge to control. In some cases, management actions have no effect or may even inadvertently benefit the targeted invader. Here, we use the mid-20th century management of the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta, in the US as a motivating case study to explore the conditions under which such wasted management effort may occur. Introduced in approximately 1940, the fire ant spread widely through the southeast US and became a problematic pest. Historically, fire ants were managed with broad-spectrum pesticides; unfortunately, these efforts were largely unsuccessful. One hypothesis suggests that, by also killing native ants, mass pesticide application reduced competitive burdens thereby enabling fire ants to invade more quickly than they would in the absence of management. We use a mechanistic competition model to demonstrate the landscape-level effects of such management. We explicitly model the extent and location of pesticide applications, showing that the same pesticide application can have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on the progress of an invasion, depending on where it is applied on the landscape with respect to the invasion front. When designing management, the target species is often considered alone; however, this work suggests that leveraging existing biotic interactions, specifically competition with native species, can increase the efficacy of management. Our model not only highlights the potential unintended consequences of ignoring biotic interactions, but also provides a framework for developing spatially explicit management strategies that take advantage of these biotic interactions to work smarter, not harder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcological Applications
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology

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