City-dwelling bugs are tougher than their neighboring rural cousins, which could help scientists better predict extreme weather and make conservation decisions.
There is some truth to city folks being tougher after all.
The study, published in Ecological Applications and led by Amy Savage, assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University-Camden, informs how conservationists and planners can better protect ecosystems in the face of increasing extreme and catastrophic weather.
"It's very encouraging because it suggests that we may be able to make smart management decisions to mitigate the damaging effects of extreme weather events on urban ecosystems,” said Savage in a statement.
A team of researchers compared the diversity of arthropod species – ants, bees, beetles, and wasps – at 91 urban and park sites in New York City before and after the 2012 Super Storm Sandy.
Using this before-and-after-impact design, the researchers found diversity in bug species before the storm was higher in parks than in street medians. Diversity in parks declined after the storm. They found bugs living in high-stress habitats, like urban locations, are better adapted to dealing with stressful situations (like a devastating storm), making them more resilient to the effects of extreme weather.
Cities are one of the only habitats that continue to expand and most of the most expansion occurs along coasts. Because of the way they are built, cities are particularly susceptible to storm damage. Impervious materials like concrete perpetuate flooding by stopping heavy rains from seeping into the ground. Large blocks of buildings also act as wind tunnels and a lack of vegetation does little to buffer storms.
When it comes to climate change, scientists predict the frequency of extreme weather events will increase along with the magnitude of devastation. The 2017 hurricane season was the most expensive in US history, costing more than $200 billion in damage. Savage says the findings will help scientists with future studies about the resiliency of urban ecosystems in extreme weather.
"Between Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season underscores this point," said Savage. "We can now use our data from Manhattan after Super Storm Sandy to make predictions about how diversity may change in Houston after Hurricane Harvey and in the urban centers of Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, among other areas affected by these storms."
Who knew those little pests could offer such a big help?