2fireantsA new study from the University of Illinois has found, via means of genetic testing, that fire ants were most likely native to Spain and found their way across oceans to Mexico and the Philippines by means of early 16th Century global trade routes. Ships carried soil in their ballasts for balance and once they reached their ports, the soil was replaced it with cargo.

Illinois entomology professor and animal biology department head Andrew Suarez, conducted the study. He stated, “If you look at the records, you look at the history, you look at the old trading routes and you look at the genetics, it all paints this picture that this was one of the first global invasions, and it coincided with what could be the first global trade pattern of the Spanish,” Suarez said. “The ants from the introduced areas in the Old World are genetically most similar to ants from southwestern Mexico, suggesting that their source population came from this region.”

Another member of the study, Sara Helms Cahan, a University of Vermont biology professor went on to say “Invasive ants are a huge problem. Once they arrive, they establish really high densities in new habitats, with negative consequences for agriculture, native species and human quality of life,” Helms Cahan said. “Controlling them costs millions of dollars annually.” She also said without digital tracking and customs enforcement as we have today, it is difficult to track these events, however, “Luckily for us, however, it turns out that invasive species keep their own records of their history, encoded in their genomes.”

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