Formal and informal interactions with members of the community (social media posts, interviews, public events, etc.) revealed that although many Big Island residents are impacted by little fire ants (LFA), there were two main barriers to treatment: confusion about how to effectively manage LFA, and a lack of cooperation between neighbors. Pesticides range in category of action (barrier, toxicant bait, IGR bait) and there are often multiple products available in each category, leading to significant misuse of pesticides and frustration with ineffectiveness of misapplied products. The most effective treatment regimen for most of wet, heavily vegetated East Hawaii island is a product mixed into a bait formula designed by the Hawaii Ant Lab. However, many residents reported feeling uncertain about how to properly mix and apply this bait.
Additionally, treatment regimens for LFA are most effective when applied across larger landscape scales and neighboring properties coordinate timing of application, with treatment taking a minimum of a year of regularly timed applications.
Effective eradication of LFA from an area requires strict adherence to a timetable of four to six weeks between treatments. Missing treatments can allow the ants to recover to pre-treatment levels, and can negate any previous treatment. This makes coordination and cooperation critical to successful treatment.
• Reduced cost (as much as 40% less) through purchasing in bulk
• Fewer borders with un-treated areas that require ongoing barrier treatment
• Increased overall effectiveness by reducing re-infestation from neighboring properties
• Shared goals and accountability increases likelihood of neighbors sticking to treatment plan
• Shared responsibility: huis worked together to include elderly, disabled, or temporarily absent neighbors by providing labor and sometimes financial support
First detected in Puna in 1999, the Little Fire Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) has since reached every district of Big Island of Hawaii. These tiny "tramp ants" spread easily through the movement of human cargo, particularly plant materials, and build colonies made up of dozens or even hundreds of queens connected across landscapes. LFA have a painful sting that can leave an itchy rash or welt for days, and their stings are associated with cloudiness and blinding in domestic animals. Infestation of LFA increases the population of plant pests like aphids and mealy bugs, which the ants use to produce carbohydrates. Direct and indirect harm to crops as well as a forecasted impact on tourism have been predicted to cost over $140 million in economic damage to Hawaii Island in the next decade without intervention (Lee, Motoki, et al. 2014).
BIISC launched a program in May 2016 offering communities a free information session (CIS), scheduled within the community and at a time convenient for the residents (as decided upon by the community contact). During the CIS we present information on LFA history in Hawaii, biology, and invasiveness, focusing on proper management with a goal of localized eradication. Using social science strategies to encourage neighborhood collaboration (Niemiec, Brewer et al. 2018), BIISC staff encourage attendees to create neighborhood huis of at least 6 closely located neighbors to receive a free treatment demonstration. Participants in the neighborhood huis are asked to sign agreements committing to a full year of treatment, and to provide results of ant surveys upon request to BIISC at two intervals during the year.
The intitial training and demonstration session takes place in the neighborhood, with one hui member property serving as host. BIISC staff guide participants through measuring and mixing the correct amount of products needed for the HAL gel bait. At this demonstration, we provide all ingredients and materials necessary for the bait. We leave the group with a mixing kit consisting of two buckets, measuring containers, Zep bottles, and a paint mixer. Using this kit they can continue to mix for the rest of their treatment year. After the mixing, we provide a demonstration on the host's property on where and how to properly apply the bait for maximum effect. Before leaving, the team will assist the community in putting together a plan for cost sharing and treatment schedule. Throughout the treatment year, BIISC remains in contact with the hui, sending reminder emails based on the neighborhood schedule to help them stay on track with timely applications. Technical assistance is provided through phone, email, or in-office visits.
Treatment for the first six months is consistent for all properties and residents: the HAL gel bait with Tango (methoprene) as the pesticide. An insect growth regulator (IGR), Tango impacts queens by restricting reproductive output. This product was chosen for this program because it is more universally applicable, as the only LFA pesticide labeled for use in fruit trees (common in participant yards). Additionally, as it is not a toxicant, some homeowners who may be reluctant to apply "poisons" feel more comfortable with the IGR. We identified this as a critical component of encouraging neighbor interaction, as there is often serious disagreement amongst residents on the safety of pesticides.
At 6 months and later at 12 months of treatment, BIISC staff return to the community to check progress and provide additional guidance. At each check-in, we ask for hui members to survey their property using peanut butter sticks to determine infestation levels and compare to pre-treatment levels. At the 6 month point, we introduce the option of switching to a toxicant treatment, either in addition to or as a replacement for the Tango bait. Selecting a course of action depends a great deal on the landscape and weather patterns of the property, as well as the preferences of the homeowner. We meet with hui members to explain the various options and walk them through what might make sense for individuals, while still maintaining the importance of a consistent and aligned timetable. This also provides an opportunity for us to answer any questions or troubleshoot problems that the group has been running into during their treatment. At the conclusion of the meeting, we provide a single treatment-sized amount of Siesta (ready-made toxicant granules) to each participant who desires to try the different product.
The meeting at 12 months focuses on moving into a maintenance phase: how to keep your property LFA free after reaching a state of zero detections. We explain how to maintain barriers through residual contact pesticide and how to quarantine any new things getting moved onto the property that have potential of carrying LFA. We provide assistance in tackling specific "problem areas" that may still have ant detections, and walk the community through what worked and didn't work during the treatment year. This meeting is also a celebration, generally held as a potluck and with staff encouraging hui members to celebrate their success.
• Individual properties: 305
• Total acres: 425
• Successful reduction in LFA populations: 82% of properties
• Community members trained (hands-on): 498
• Community members attended CIS: 813
These quotes were gathered during interviews with participating community members. Interviews revealed that the neighbors felt that the cooperative structure of the hui model was important to their success, with a secondary benefit of increasing social ties in their neighborhoods:
• "I can see that anyone doing it alone isn’t going to get there. So the power of the community was so strengthened to work together."
• "Common enemy. Common predicament. That we all acknowledge. We can help each other by controlling one area, disseminating information, offering to help, opening the lines of communication in all areas. All these community things. And that is what community is. It’s exactly that. It’s so simple. Because none of us can do it ourselves even if we think we can."
• "It was really helpful for you guys to come out and help a couple of times. It brought the neighborhood together. I thought that was real important."
• "Some of the trees have ants but far fewer than originally. The other trees have no ants on them and there always used to be. So treatment has definitely reduced the population."
• "I got to know my neighbors in a different way than I had before which is a huge blessing."
• "I think what surprised me is how people were willing to cover for each other. Because that’s how I opted to present it; was that the beauty of this program is now since we are all doing this we can cover for each other. If someone has to go out of town or now it’s the baby it’s just gives us this ability to do more. And it worked. It just really drew the neighbors together."