From the Cover: Experimental evidence that human impacts drive fire ant invasions and ecological change
Biological invasions are often closely associated with human impacts and it is difficult to determine whether either or both are responsible for the negative impacts on native communities. Here, we show that human activity, not biological invasion, is the primary driver of negative effects on native communities and of the process of invasion itself. In a large-scale experiment, we combined additions of the exotic fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, with 2 disturbance treatments, mowing and plowing, in a fully crossed factorial design. Results indicate that plowing, in the absence of fire ants, greatly diminished total native ant abundance and diversity, whereas fire ants, even in the absence of disturbance, diminished some, but not all, native ant abundance and diversity. Transplanted fire ant colonies were favored by disturbance. In the absence of disturbance and on their own, fire ants do not invade the forest habitats of native ants. Our results demonstrate that fire ants are "passengers" rather than "drivers" of ecological change. We propose that fire ants may be representative of other invasive species that would be better described as disturbance specialists. Current pest management and conservation strategies should be reassessed to better account for the central role of human impacts in the process of biological invasion.