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Expanded ant surveillance programme needed

Expanded ant surveillance programme needed.

Forest and Bird is calling for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's ant surveillance programme to be expanded following the discovery of a crazy ant colony in Wellington.

"Crazy ants are honeydew feeders. Should crazy ants reach the South Island they will find a large regular honeydew supply in beech forests and would deprive bellbirds, kaka and tui of food," said Forest and Bird Biosecurity Awareness Officer Geoff Keey.

"Ants need protein too. On the basis of overseas experience, Forest and Bird expects that crazy ants could strip honeydew-producing beech forests of invertebrates - an important food source for fantails, robins and other insect eaters," he said.

"We've seen the impact of wasps in honey dew producing South Island beech forests, so we know how bad it can get. The biomass of wasps in beech forests - feeding on honeydew, native insects and other foods - can exceed the biomass of native birds along with possums and other introduced pests. If ants were to do the same it would be an ecological catastrophe and pose major problems for tourism and outdoor recreation," he said.

"Forest and Bird is pleased the ant surveillance programme is working. We argued strongly for the programme when its future seemed in doubt. It is preventing new ant pests from becoming established and that's important," he said.

"But the current programme is not enough. The nests from ant colonies found on the ground to date are a potential source of spread. Ants from the colonies may have already spread further into New Zealand, far beyond the original colonies," he said.

"We are also not convinced that the ants found at the wharves to date are the only invasive ants to have recently got into the country. Ants could hitch rides on sea or air containers to the many transitional facilities where they are unpacked," he said.

The ant surveillance programme should be extended to include all transitional facilities and other places where containers and imports are taken and unpacked," he said.

"The Government also needs to find out where these ants came from. Surveillance is a 'mopping-up' process after pre border and border controls have failed to prevent incursions so it is important that lessons about our border and pre-border controls can be drawn from the discovery of new pests. This should result in improvements in New Zealand's pre-border and border controls," he said.

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