With the help of the residents of Los Angeles, researchers have discovered 30 new species of flies buzzing around the sprawling metropolis.
The Natural History Museum of L.A. County's BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature) project is a three-year investigation of biodiversity patterns in and around Los Angeles. Since the majority of people on the planet live in cities, understanding urban biodiversity is becoming more and more critical. These sorts of ecosystems deliver important services, which range from providing oxygen and cleaning the air to waste decomposition and pest control.
Local city-dwellers were recruited to host one of 30 sampling sites at their houses. These consist of a continuously operating insect trap and a microclimate weather station. After three months of sample collection, a team led by museum entomologist Emily Hartop examined over 10,000 specimens. “For months on end I spent my days buried in fly genitalia,” Hartop explains in a post on BioSCAN Buzz. “I became a crazy fly lady.” Along the way, she nicknamed some flies based on what their genitals and various body parts reminded her of—bunny ears, 1980s troll dolls, and a Hokusai painting, for example.
In the end, Hartop and colleagues discovered 30 species that are completely new to science. They all belong to the genus Megaselia of the fly family Phoridae.
“What does this mean for us? It means that even in the very areas where we live and work, our biodiversity is critically understudied. It means that in your own backyard, or community park, live species that we do not even know exist,” Hartop writes. “All of those invisible ecosystem processes that occur all around us are being conducted, in part, by creatures we know nothing of.”
Since samples from every participating backyard yielded at least one of the 30 new species, the new flies were named after the hosts of the collecting sites. To the right, citizen scientist Glen Creason flips through a field guide in front of the insect trap and weather station at his home.
“I always thought we had the potential to discover new species wherever we sample—urban, tropical, anywhere,” BioSCAN principle investigator Brian Brown says in a news release. “But 30 new species from a heavily urbanized area is really astounding.”
These findings will be published in Zootaxa next week.
Images: Kelsey Bailey (top, middle), Phyllis Sun (bottom)