Rapid response to incursions relies on being prepared. This means knowing what species are found in your country, keeping an eye out for those you don't want (surveillance) and being ready to respond if unwanted species are found.
Any surveillance must be underpinned by a well-defined response plan.
As environment and agriculture departments are typically separate in the Pacific, responsibility for each of the activities required for a response must be decided beforehand.
Where multi-agency involvement in a response is anticipated, a response plan should be prepared clearly identifying which department is responsible for what task in case of an incursion by invasive ant species. The list below is adapted from The New Zealand Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) 2nd Edition and indicates the structure and content of an effective response plan.
Steps in a response mirror those in a management plan, and include:
- Positive identification of the target species - Not all ants are the same. Some ant species cause problems that others do not, their foraging behavior varies and their food preferences may be also be radically different. All these factors affect how the ants may respond to baiting or other management and it is essential to correctly identify your target species in to design a management strategy that will be effective.
- Research the target species biology, rate of spread and known associates (if any). By known associates we mean insects that can worsen or facilitate an ant invasion. Ants food preferences vary during their breeding cycle. For example, presence of larvae often increases demand for protein in ants that otherwise mostly forage for sweets. Knowing these preferences helps to choose a bait that will be attractive to the ants and in choosing the best time to put the bait out. Also, if the ants are known to form associations with other insects such as aphids or mealybugs, treating both the ant and its associate may increase the chances of management success.
- Research successful management of the target species in environments similar to your own. If necessary seek expert advice - a bait that was successful in one environment may have zero uptake in another, because varying environmental conditions may result in limited a availability of a resource in one area but not another. For this reason it is advisable to look for management campaigns that have been successful in treating a particular ant species in an environment similar to your own and to follow their lead.
- Delimiting of the infested area. Before any management can be planned it is important to understand the distribution and abundance of the target species. This information will help to inform what action (if any) needs to be taken as well as allowing a budget to be formulated.
- Impose movement controls to prevent spread - once the limit of the incursion is established it is important to prevent it from spreading any further. This may be achieved by imposing strict restrictions on movement of high risk materials and by placing chemical barriers, such as baits to prevent the ants form expanding their territory.
- Distribute awareness materials. The entire community should be made aware of the threats posed by the ant and what they can do to prevent its spread. It is also important to detail the consequences of not complying with any restrictions imposed on high risk goods.
- Plan and discuss management with all stakeholders. This is part of assessing environmental and social impacts - the impacts of any management must be discussed with members of the community in a proposed treatment or movement restricted area. These impacts may include any disruption of day to day life, business or concerns about possible non-target effects of any pesticide used. Under some circumstances compensation for disturbance or loss of income may need to be discussed.
- Notify all stakeholders of planned management, including distribution of pesticide warning materials if applicable. Once a course of management is decided, the entire community in the affected area needs to be notified. If pesticide is being used, any hazards associated with it must be clearly explained. It is also a good idea to discuss any potential hazard (such as accidental consumption of bait) with schools and hospitals.
- Undertake management action. Management must cause as little as possible disruption to day-to-day life.
- Post-treatment monitoring (including human health monitoring to ensure there have been no ill effects as the result of pesticide contact). It is important to detect any non-target effects of a management campaign early, in order to take action to lessen any unforeseen risks. Public health and biodiversity surveys are a way to achieve this.
When preparing a response plan it is always useful to refer to plans produced elsewhere, such as this draft rapid response plan for red imported fire ant in Hawaii. The Lake Chaplain Basin rapid response action plan for aquatic invasive species provides an excellent example of the various stages of a rapid response. All aspects of the response plan may be transferred into context of rapid response for ant incursions. Alternatively a template action plan for rapid response to aquatic invasive species in Maryland provides a useful example that is broadly transferable to the a response to invasive ants.
A rapid response is not cheap and resources must be allocated ahead of time in order to mobilise against a high risk invader.
Sections of a response plan should include:
- Summary of incident: a list of unwanted ant species, the impacts they have (environmental, social), environments they inhabit (tree dwelling, mound forming etc.) and response/management actions to date (both in country if applicable and treatments in areas similar to your own)
- Aim: a statement of the intent of the response plan, which agency will be responsible for which portions of the plan, what the timeframe will be for each section etc.
- Objectives: clear objectives that lead to achieving the aim e.g. containment of incursion, followed by eradication, management or monitoring
- Plan of action/strategy: high level description of the proposed activities with time frames (see above):
Collection of specimens (if applicable)
Positive identification of the target species.
Research successful management of the target species in environments similar to your own
Ensure EPA permits for use of pesticides are issued before management is required. Includes seeking expert advice
Delimiting of the infested area
Impose movement controls to prevent spread. Distribute awareness materials
Plan and discuss management with all stakeholders, includes Environmental and Social Impact Assessment
Notify all stakeholders of planned management (includes distribution of pesticide warning materials if applicable)
Undertake management action (if deemed worthwhile)
Post treatment monitoring (including health monitoring)
- Designated tasks: as above, but with named positions responsible for each segment and a timeframe that the work is to be completed in. Note that some of the activities above can be carried out at the same time as each other
- Limiting factors: matters that may or will limit options, timeframes and outcomes, such as accessibility, weather (some baits cannot be deployed in the rain), health and safety issues (e.g. wild pigs), non-cooperative land owners, budget etc.
- Coordination measures: times (Day 1, Day 2 etc.), locations (Field site#, lab, HQ etc.) boundaries, and other measures designed to coordinate the response
- Resource needs: it is a good idea here to have lists of key personnel, expert advisors that you will contact, equipment (and where it is stored) and transport, along with who will supply where funding will come from
- Information flow: who needs to know and who has the information we need
- Public information plan: outline of intended public information processes and outputs. This may be an appendix. There are templates for many public information materials available in the PIAT
- Communications plan: frequencies/purpose/coverage, role, cellphone numbers, communications schedule, etc.
- Organisation: list/organisation chart of key roles, contact details, and rosters of people assigned to the roles
- Appendices: specialist functions (e.g. ant identification , pest control experts etc.), lists, tables, maps, etc.
People (roles) required
- Response operations manager – (supplied by the lead agency) manages day to day operations, budget, trains field team and reports to Chief Quarantine Officer or equivalent.
- Technical adviser – conducts delimiting surveys, organises containment activity [movement controls], compiles report including suggested options to deal with the problem, trains field ops team
- Financial Controller- responsible for overseeing budget
- Field controller – Oversees Field team and reports to operations manager
- Field teams- conduct survey and management work
SPC’s General Emergency Response Plan for Invasive Ant Incursions provides detailed information about the roles of each team member.
content reviewed by Souad Boudjelas, Pacific Invasives Initiative, November 2016