UT Scores $2.7 Million to Study Invasive Species

Observing grasses, stinging ants, and other pesky creatures may not be your idea of fun, but researchers at The University of Texas’ Brackenridge Field Laboratory are doing what they love.

A six-year, $2.7 million grant from the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation will allow researchers at the College of Natural Sciences’ Brackenridge Field Laboratory to amp up their study of invasive species through the newly established Texas Invasive Species Program.

“It’s a major deal for the Field Station and for Texas and for the University,” says Lawrence Gilbert, director of the Brackenridge Field Lab. “The basic idea is to extend our philosophy and our approach with the fire ant program to some other species that are problematic.”

The new program will expand on work already being conducted at the University of Texas’s Fire Ant Lab, which would have ceased to exist as funding ran out. Researchers involved in the project there are developing new ways to control the population of red imported fire ants, which are considered invasive in the U.S.

Invasive species are both plants and animals that adversely affect the environment and threaten biodiversity. Though they can provide some benefits to the ecosystem—fire ants, for instance, help control the insect population—their numbers need to be controlled.

“There are a number of invasive species problems,” Gilbert, BA ’66, says. “If you wait as long as we waited with the fire ants … it’s a much bigger problem.”

And they won’t be waiting anymore. The grant provides about half the money needed to complete the program’s separate research missions and will allow researchers to study current invasive species—such as the tawny crazy ant, the Cactoblastis moth, and a pesky African grass known as Bufflegrass—as well as future invasive species.

Gilbert, who stressed the importance of donations, says he hopes the new program will become a tradition of sustainable research for the lab.

“I’m not going to live forever,” he says. “I just thought it was good leverage to expand from the fire ant project to additional projects that will go into the future beyond my time on the planet.”

For an interactive look at red imported fire ants and other plants and animals found on the UT-Austin campus, check out Gilbert’s interview in the Alcalde‘s 40 Acres Field Guide.

Photo courtesy binux via Flickr Creative Commons.


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