Do disturbed habitats along highway rights-of-way encourage the establishment and spread of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, in Texas? The objective of this study was to determine if highway rights-of-way harbored S. invicta populations that were significantly different from those in adjacent pastures. Data on S. invicta populations were collected from three transects along highways within S. invicta-infested areas of Texas. One north–south transect, a southern east–west transect, and a northern east–west transect were established in Texas and extended 1,678 km. Twenty-eight sites, ≈80 km apart along transects, were visited between 14 May and 1 June 1996. Numbers of S. invicta mounds, mound vitality ratings, ants collected in bait cups, and vegetative characteristics were measured in rights-of-way and in adjacent pastures at each site. No significant differences in pooled (n = 28) mean numbers or vitality of S. invicta mounds were detected in rights-of-way as compared with those of adjacent properties. However, significantly more S. invicta colonies than expected were found on roadbeds (≤1.0 m from paved surfaces) as compared with the remainders of rights-of-way and to adjacent pastures. Roadbed colonies were also smaller, which suggested that colonies were more recently founded than in the remainders of rights-of-way. Mound population densities and numbers of ants in bait cups were not well correlated with vegetative characteristics measured in this study. In Texas where S. invicta is well established, S. invicta is in a population equilibrium between highway rights-of-way and adjacent pastures. However, highway roadbeds may offer an early successional habitat for S. invicta colonies and may require special survey and pest management attention, especially along the frontiers of infestation in Texas.
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