The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta (Buren), is an invasive species in the southern United States and is expanding its range westward to California and eastward up the Atlantic Coast. This voracious predator can reach extremely high densities and have widespread effects once it invades an ecosystem. We conducted a 2-yr sampling study and a series of greenhouse and field experiments to document the impact of red imported fire ants on beneficial insects in cotton. We found that the densities of 12 of 13 natural enemies sampled on cotton plants in 1999, and 8 out of 8 sampled in 2000, were negatively correlated with the densities of foraging fire ant workers. Red imported fire ants reduced the survival of lady beetles (Coccinella septempunctata L., and Hippodamia convergens Guérin-Méneville) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) by 50% and green lacewing larvae (Chrysoperla carnea Stephens) (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) by 38% in greenhouse experiments. Fire ants did not, however, reduce the survival of spiders (Oxyopidae, Thomisidae, and Clubionidae). We used a commercially available fire ant bait to suppress fire ant populations in cotton fields during the 2000 growing season and compared the densities of beneficial arthropods in treated versus control fields. Densities of lady beetles, spiders, and big-eyed bugs (Heteroptera: Geocoridae) were significantly higher in fields with suppressed fire ant populations than in fields with relatively large fire ant populations. The effect of fire ants on minute pirate bugs (Heteroptera: Anthocoridae) was inconsistent, and populations of damsel bugs (Heteroptera: Nabidae) and hooded beetles (Coleoptera: Anthicidae) were not affected by fire ant suppression. The results of this study suggest that red imported fire ants are major intraguild predators of important beneficial arthropods in cotton.
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