Youngsteadt: Over the whole history of ecology, scientists have tended to focus on protected areas way out of proportion to the amount of space they cover on the planet. And then here in the cities where more than half of the humans on the planet live, we’ve only just barely started to study.
We’ve heard the story of the city mouse and the country mouse. What about the city and the country ant? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Youngsteadt: I am an urban ecologist. I study the effects of urbanization on the ecology of insects and how that changes the way that organisms live in cities compared to outside of cities.
Elsa Youngsteadt is a research associate in Entomology at North Carolina State University. She’s looking at how urban environments are changing the behavior of insects and other species.
Youngsteadt: There’s a lot of traffic noise in cities. Animals like crickets and birds that communicate with each other using sounds have to compete with traffic sounds to be able to hear each other. So there are many examples of birds and grasshoppers becoming louder or more high pitched in their songs in cities compared to in quiet habitats.
There are leaf cutter bees that line their nests with pieces of leaf that they cut out of plants, and in urban areas, people have found them starting to use little pieces of plastic bag or polyurethane sealants instead of the natural leafs and resins, they’re starting to incorporate this manmade stuff from cities into their nests.
We do know that ants that live in the most urbanized parts of New York City eat much more human junk food – the human food is a bigger portion of their diet than it is in the more natural habitats, like parks.
And those urban ants play a crucial role as scavengers of all the hot dogs, cookies and potato chips that end up on the sidewalks of New York. We’ll hear more in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.