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New Zealand scientists go to war on Pacific's spreading ant problems

WELLINGTON, June 10 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand scientists have launched a program to eradicate invasive ant species that are causing widespread health problems and economic damage to Pacific Island nations.

Victoria University reasearchers said Wednesday they have set up a non-profit organization, Pacific Biosecurity, to help prevent the spread of species like the little fire ant.

"These tiny ants have an extremely painful sting, and the effects of the ants can be serious when they are in high abundance, " project leader Dr Monica Gruber said in a statement.

"In some places, the ants have forced people off their land as they can't tend crops. Because they're found on both sides of the Pacific, we need to prevent their spread into the rest of the region and improve the ability to manage them."

The scientists first became involved with the ant problem about 10 years ago when they were asked by villagers to help with infestations of yellow crazy ants on two of Tokelau's three atolls.

"Then, in 2011, we were told the ants had spread to the third atoll and were causing damage and disruption to the lives of local people. While doing some separate work in Kiribati, we discovered the yellow crazy ant there too," said Gruber.

The invasive ants could become massively abundant and widespread as many communities could not afford pesticides or other control methods.

"People tell us they are unable to sleep due to ants crawling over them, crop production is reduced, and pets and livestock are affected by ants spraying acid in their eyes or stinging."

The New Zealand government's aid program has awarded the project, which works with Pacific government agencies, a contract to improve resources for ant management and biosecurity across the Pacific.

"Prevention requires less effort and resources than eradication, which becomes impossible when these ants cover a large area. That' s why we need to focus on biosecurity across the whole Pacific region to prevent the ants and other invasive species from spreading," said Gruber.

"We encourage additional partners to join the initiative as these ants are a region-wide problem, and improved resources will be a benefit for all."

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