The researchers thought they would find 200 species of plants and animals living in their home and yard. They were very wrong
We are biodiversity researchers – an ecologist, a mathematician, and a taxonomist – who have been cooped up together during the Covid pandemic. Being housebound, it didn’t take long before we started wondering how many species of plants and animals we were sharing the space with. So we started counting them all.
We guessed we would find about 200-300, and many of our colleagues guessed the same.
There was nothing unusual about the 400 square meter plot of land in Anerley, a suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. Nearly half of the building was occupied by a three-bedroom house.
What was exceptional was the number of species we discovered there. As our just published study revealed, starting on the first day of lockdown and continuing over the course of a year, we have cataloged 1,150 species on our inner-city properties.
Familiar faces and rare loners
Many of the species were what any Australian east coast suburb would expect: ibises, turkeys, kookaburras, possums and flying foxes. But surprisingly, other cases have rarely been recorded.
In fact, three of the 1,150 species in Australia’s leading biodiversity database were not documented at the time. This included a rare mosquito, a sand fly, and an invasive flatworm that can cause a decline in local snail populations.
We found common enemies, but we also found many friends. This rare mosquito was just one of 13 species of mosquitoes we found. The cupboards housed pantry moths and grain weevils, as well as the spiders that preyed on them (we recorded 56 species).
Our lack of diligent garden care meant that weeds were prolific; Of the 103 plant species we documented on the property, 100 were non-native.
Aside from weeds, the vast majority of species were actually native. The two massive tulip trees provide shade, shelter, food and magnets for many pollinators and other species.
Bees and butterflies
The yard was full of pollinators. For example, there were hoverflies which, at a glance, you might think were wasps. We had ten of these species, part of the more than 109 species of flies we found.
Native blue-banded bees and fluffy teddy bear bees were roosting in the hedges below our windows at night. They were just two of the more than 70 species of bees and wasps we observed.
We also counted an amazing 436 species of butterflies and moths. A few were the size of a human hand, but most were small and barely noticeable. Some were brightly colored, while others – such as the vampire moth Calyptra minoticornis – seemed boring until we began to study their behavior.
The Scatochresis innumera moth is another interesting one: as a caterpillar, it lives inside a single opossum tube before emerging as an adult.
The larvae of Parylergis tarantula, another moth, inhabit spider webs, surviving on spider food scraps, while adults can be found hanging like bats from spider webs. It is not known how they avoid being eaten by spiders.
Wasps and beetles
We recorded ten species of lycaenous “blue” butterflies, many of which use ants to protect their larvae from predators, including certain species of wasps that may lay eggs if given the opportunity.
These wasps are called parasitoids, which means their young develop in other organisms, eventually killing them. Some of these wasps even parasitize other parasitic wasps. Clearly, our urban homes are complex ecosystems.
We were surprised to find just under 100 species of beetles (the fourth most common group of organisms in our study). Beetles are widely believed to be the most diverse insect order on the planet.
Our findings may be a sign of declining beetle populations, which has been observed around the world. On the other hand, it may have been a bad year for beetles in our area.
An urban environment bustling with life
Overall, we found many more species than we expected, and showed that even urban environments can be teeming with wildlife.
The main reason for this was definitely the vegetation: bushes, trees and weeds in the yard. The monotony of perfectly groomed lawns, manicured and heavily sprinkled flower beds may be nice to look at and for children to play on, but as an urban wildlife habitat, they are non-existent.
Our laziness meant that we did very little work in the garden. However, by giving the mower and exterminators a break, and by sacrificing some of the grass for native trees, shrubs and flowering grasses, we ended up with something far more valuable.
But no matter what you do to maintain your home, be sure to check your porch or porch lighting tonight, and keep an eye out for urban wildlife around your home. You can also experience some amazing nature, no matter how urban the environment you live in.
Introduction to conversation
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