The worrying arrival of the invasive Asian needle ant in Europe —

Invasive unique species are thought of one of many principal causes of the present biodiversity disaster. In recent times, people have launched 200 species of ant from exterior of their pure space of distribution and a few of them have develop into invasive. Such is the case of the Asian needle ant, Brachyponera chinensis, which has seen its space of distribution drastically increase within the final 80 years.

Its pure distribution consists of coastal areas of mainland China, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula and Japan, whereas within the Nineteen Thirties it was launched to the US, the place it has develop into established and is now current in 17 states. In North America, B. chinensis invades native forest habitats and has had a robust unfavorable impact on most native ant species. As well as, because of its chunk and the properties of the poison it injects, B. chinensis has been recognized as an rising menace to public well being within the US, as it could trigger critical allergic reactions.

Now a analysis group led by the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint centre of the CSIC and Pompeu Fabra College (UPF) in Barcelona, Spain, presents the primary confirmed file of Brachyponera chinensis in Europe. One of many authors of the research and novice entomologist, Vincenzo Gentile, collected an unidentified male of the genus Brachyponera that was drawn to the sunshine of a streetlamp on 3 July 2020 in Torre Annunziata (Naples, Italy), in a residential space about 1 km from town’s port. The morphology of the specimen and subsequent genetic evaluation confirmed that it was the primary specimen of Brachyponera chinensis recognized in European territory.

Preliminary morphological investigations revealed that the invasive ant didn’t belong to any of the commonest invasive households — Formicinae, Dolichoderinae and Myrmicinae subfamilies — however belonged to the Ponerinae, subfamily that predominantly consists of predatory ants. Nonetheless, the specimen recognized — notably of the genus Brachyponera — was completely different from any native Euro-Mediterranean ponerine.

Subsequent genetic evaluation carried out by INPhINIT “la Caixa” predoctoral researcher Mattia Menchetti on the Butterfly Variety and Evolution Laboratory on the IBE, led by principal investigator Roger Vila, confirmed that it was a male of the species Brachyponera chinensis. The research means that it might have originated from the US, or that the invasive species has been launched to the 2 continents from the identical homeland.

“The genetic barcode, also referred to as DNA barcoding, is a really great tool. It includes utilizing a brief DNA sequence like a barcode unique to every species. On this means, we are able to determine any pattern, which is beneficial each in fundamental science and within the management of invasive species, pests, unlawful buying and selling, in forensic evaluation, and many others.,” Menchetti explains.

Like many different soil invertebrates, ants are sometimes by chance launched into new environments because of globalization and particularly plant commerce. Their frequent introduction to non-public gardens hinders detecting these species within the early levels, earlier than they unfold by means of a broad area, as is the case of B. chinensis in Torre Annunziata. Though the ants of town of Naples had been studied between 2016 and 2021, no different people of this species had been discovered.

The truth that they’ve collected a flying male, within the technique of swarming, signifies that no less than one nest is already at a complicated stage following its introduction. “The supply nest could also be in difficult-to-access personal areas and the colony — or colonies — could have time to propagate with out being detected,” Menchetti provides. “Nonetheless, neither can or not it’s dominated out {that a} colony with out queens has been launched and that the males have been produced by employee ants, which is phenomenal however doable for B. chinensis.”

The Mediterranean basin is house to a rising variety of unique species, however most have been restricted to constructing interiors and greenhouses, or city environments. Nonetheless, the growth of B. chinensis in North American forest habitats means that this species might invade European pure habitats, forests particularly, resulting in doable unfavorable results on native ant communities and the well being of the ecosystems.

“That is an invasive species that’s inflicting important ecological and well being issues in the US and will have results in Europe akin to these of the Asian hornet or the Argentine ant. Expertise tells us that, as soon as the exponential part of growth of an invasive species has been reached, we shouldn’t have the means to eradicate it and at most, we are able to management it by investing large quantities of public assets. Subsequently, it’s essential to benefit from the window of alternative posed by the so-called latency part: the time throughout which the invasive species turns into established within the new place and remains to be very localized. We should rethink the technique of controlling invasive species and redirect assets in direction of biomonitoring, which is able to enable early detection, and the deployment of a fast response group as quickly because the alarm of a brand new introduction sounds,” Vila advises.

As well as, the institution of B. chinensis in city areas might pose a public well being drawback, within the gentle of the documented response attributable to the poison injected by this ant. “We enchantment for motion at this early stage of the brand new organic invasion and suggest an in depth survey of a big space round Torre Annunziata,” Menchetti provides.

This analysis has obtained the help of the “la Caixa” Basis, amongst others.