Laughable science: worrying about impacts of ‘extreme weather’ on bugs in the city

From RUTGERS UNIVERSITY and the YGTBFKM department. I laughed out loud when I saw this study title. My first thought: Other than these researchers, who gives a flying roach (an arthropod) about how bugs were affected by a hurricane in New York City? There’s far bigger issues to worry about and insects are tremendously resilient. Who funds this junk? The answer is below. SMH.


Urban insects are more resilient in extreme weather

Rutgers University-Camden rersearch examins how arthropods survive hurricanes in urban centers

CAMDEN – A study led by Amy Savage, a Rutgers University-Camden assistant professor of biology, will help researchers understand how to make predictions and conservation decisions about how organisms living in cities will respond to catastrophic weather events.

Savage’s analysis, conducted in New York City, compared the diversity of arthropods – insects such as ants, bees, beetles, and wasps – that were living in parks and street medians before and after Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged parts of New Jersey and New York in 2012.

The study, “Homogenizing an Urban Habitat Mosaic: Arthropod diversity declines in New York City parks after Super Storm Sandy,” was published in the journal Ecological Applications.

The study shows that before the storm, the diversity was higher in the parks than in street medians. After the storm, arthropod diversity in the parks declined, resulting in communities in parks becoming indistinguishable from those in street medians. In other words, the higher diversity detected in parks before the storm was absent from post-storm samples.

According to the Rutgers-Camden researcher, the study supports the hypothesis that organisms living in high-stress urban medians possess adaptions to disturbance, making them more resilient to the effects of extreme weather events than organisms living in relatively low-stress city parks.

Researchers found that the arthropods that were most vulnerable to flooding were the same groups that were most sensitive to chronic stress in medians compared with parks before the storm.

“These data suggest that one result of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will be homogenization of diversity in cities and that the direction of this simplification of urban communities may be quite predictable,” says Savage. “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.”

In August of 2012, Savage began studying how diversity differed across habitats with different levels of environmental stress. Two months later, Hurricane Sandy struck Manhattan. Savage’s team of researchers began studying the post-Sandy effects in the spring of 2013.

“When the storm hit, we were in a unique position to study how these arthropod communities responded to extreme storms,” says Savage. “Testing these contrasting hypotheses was an opportunity to not only help people understand and plan for diversity changes after extreme weather events, but also to provide important data that would move the field of ecology forward.”

The research can be useful in future studies on how resilient urban ecosystems are to extreme weather events.

“Between Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season underscores this point,” says 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.”

###

Other researchers contributing to the study include Andrew Ernst of BASF Corporation; Robert Dunn, Steven Frank, and Elsa Youngsteadt of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at North Carolina State University; and Shelby Powers of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

Funded by:
NSF RAPID. Grant Number: 1318655
United States Geological Survey. Grant Numbers: G11AC20471, G13AC00

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64 thoughts on “Laughable science: worrying about impacts of ‘extreme weather’ on bugs in the city


      • I guess the old RAID didn’t contain compressed chlorofluorocarbons to drive the spray after all.
        It must have only contained compressed CO2!

    • The CCC would be of much more use… there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs rebuilding. And the national parks & forests infrastructure as well. That might even be more appropriate for folks working in the biological fields.

  1. No matter your area of interest or expertise it’s obvious you can get funding by inserting the word “climate” into your request. I’m expecting someone to engage in research for the ‘The Effect of Climate on the Haptic Feedback of Doorknobs’ any day now.

    • Could studies such as this get funding in a sane country that didn’t have a Federal Reserve Bank that conjures magic currency out of a magic hole in the air than looks around from their helicopter to decide upon whom to drop the magic stuff? And then somehow expects the magic of the so-called “Keynesian multiplier” to result in economic growth that will boost taxes because of the spending of the magic currency? With no magic purchasing power?
      We be a sick nation.

    • Hey Greg!

      How about dem fire ants, or as we Louisiana folks call dem “red ants”. I bet they did just fine, along with the roaches

      Those who have not seen them in floods may appreciate that they “mat” together to form a living raft, then float to new ground and start over.

      Gums…

    • Projecting the results from Sandy to any other area is not sensible. Each area has a different fauna, flora, soils, drainage, fresh water flooding vs salt water flooding etc. Also, Sandy was a “cold” storm. Hurricanes in Texas and the islands would have been “warm” storms. Different temps and times would intercept insects at different life stages. If they get the same results from several different storms/times/locations I’ll consider the “generalizations” of impacts.

  2. “We can now … make predictions about how diversity may change in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.” Another “may” prediction. Houston City Hall must be ecstatic.

  3. Cities are not a place for wildlife. That includes deer, coyotes, bugs etc. It seems we can’t get rid of birds (they seem to love cities), but even they are not needed in the cities. There is plenty of country side they can live in/on all around the cities.

    ps I’m from Canada, so please don’t pronounce coyotes with a long e sound at the end when you read this post.

  4. Its not about the bugs people,its about the bucks, funding that is, ‘research’ is a business before it is a science these days. Get with the program folks….

  5. Who funds this junk?

    Full credit to the publishers for displaying this information prominently.

    Funded by
    NSF RAPID. Grant Number: 1318655
    United States Geological Survey. Grant Numbers: G11AC20471, G13AC00

    I’m beginning to think I should set up a website or something detailing such abuses of science funding.

  6. “These data suggest that one result of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will be homogenization of diversity in cities and that the direction of this simplification of urban communities may be quite predictable,” says Savage. “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.”

    They made one marginally interesting observation which may have value in the study of insect ecology. The rest is speculation and assumption about climate trends and future mitigation that has the flimsiest foundation in the data described. It seems the real science was just the appetizer and the main course is the usual science fiction.

  7. I saw an article about Hurricane Harvey that described a man saving 200 squirrels stranded in a tree. I thought, “This man has too much time on his hands….. .” Squirrels are rats with bushy tails and there’s plenty more where those came from.

      • In western Pennsylvania where I grew up greys were common.
        So were rim-fire 22 rifles. Mine was a single shot with a 6 power scope.
        Squirrels were supper.
        The UK should try that.

  8. I think the results are interesting and certainly a reasonable thing for entomologists to study. It just has nothing to do with “climate change” and (as far as I can see) no relevance to public policy at all. Not that the lack of those things should stop entomologists from studying bugs….

    Whether this research is worth supporting by the NSF is a separate issue. A reasonable claim could be made that the subject isn’t worth the government borrowing or stealing money to support. OTOH, spending NSF funds to support real science, however irrelevant to public policy, has got to be a better decision than spending it on another “we looked at regional downscaling of CIMP models that have neither claimed nor demonstrated regional scale, and this is what we found” paper.

  9. Bugs are smart. When the weather gets crappy, they move. Rather than just evolving into Polar Beetles, beetles just moved to avoid the ice sheets…

    Beetles are the most species-rich group of organisms on Earth and intuitively it would seem that they must evolve rapidly. Climatic changes, especially those resulting in the growth and melting of ice sheets, cause the fragmentation and isolation of biological populations. The conditions for reproductive isolation and allopatric speciation would seem to be optimal at times of climate change. Several hundred species of beetles have now been reported from a large number of studies of Pleistocene and Holocene fossil assemblages. References for these studies are listed in QBIB, a comprehensive electronic bibliography (Buckland et al., 1997). Several new species were described in the older literature but most of these have now been reassigned to extant species following taxonomic revisions. The Quaternary fossil record is unequivocally one of stasis not speciation (Figure 2).

    […]

    https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~ashworth/aapg_perspectives.pdf

  10. One of the cause de l’année raised in discussions with some of the aromatic PCT through hikers I ran into this year was the impact all the hikers were having on the ants and ant colonies unlucky enough to be on the Pacific Crest Trail. I found this surreal because I realized that a lot of these people seemed to think the great outdoors was that extremely narrow strip of trail. As a avid off trail hiker I know ants are everywhere. Just try to sit down out there for more than 30 seconds. And I don’t have much sympathy for the little biting bastards anyway – for 30 years I’ve been defending my little 2.5 acre plot against the relentlessly advancing colonies using the best modern products I can find – I relate to Starship Troopers sometimes.

      • No, I’ll look it up. I remember a chapter or section in “City” by Simak. Given a little boost, ants developed technology and literally covered the world.

    • Hmmm, I’ll have to find the story, sounds like a nailbiter. Some silly parodies have been done – invasion of Army Snails, only have three weeks to come up with a plan. And Navy Ants!

  11. Reading the actual study will drive you crazy. Never have I seen so many statistical tests and matrices applied to a set of innocent data. But they have really really done a lot of field, lab, and data processing work.
    Unfortunately, they sample at two different times of the year (June 2012 and August 2013) — they use different collection schemes each year — they do not correct for any city spraying or storm cleanup programs — there is not a single mention of whether “flooding” was by fresh or salt water (this would be different at different sites), no mention of inundation duration for any of the sites. Their findings are really only significant “before” and “after” Sandy — not related to sea water (or any water) flooding at all….like maybe the big bad storm scared the bugs to death? It is so interesting — the odd science — that I may have to write a full length essay about it.

  12. It is possible, maybe likely, that bug populations, if they were generally harmed, might take a few years to return to normal. It also seems to me that, in these sort of environments (park and street medians,) it would be impossible to get a genuine “apples to apples” population comparison from one year to the next. Too many possible external changes that occur in the environments and that might affect populations are possible. I would not take this paper seriously.

  13. I guess if the human population is going to transition from eating beef to eating bugs for protein then we probably need to know this stuff.

  14. The only bugs that are caused by AGW are the fat parasites living off its fat subsidies. I just wish they were at risk of extinction.

  15. “…the study supports the hypothesis that organisms living in high-stress urban medians possess adaptions to disturbance, making them more resilient to the effects of extreme weather events than organisms living in relatively low-stress city parks.”

    And also supports the hypothesis that organisms living in medians have less “diversity” because there is less food there, and those living in parks have more diversity, until the storm washed away the food for some of them.

  16. SHE: Do you know the difference between an etymologist and an entomologist?
    HE: No. What’s the difference?
    SHE: An etymologist is someone who knows the difference between an etymologist and an entomologist.

  17. It is a well-known fact (or at least it should be) that there are ”disaster species” that expand and multiply when there has been some kind of more or less widespread disturbance, like a grass-fire or a hurricane or an asteroid impact. Ordinarily these species eke out a marginal existence on small-scale disturbed habitats like e. g. street medians. And yes, such disaster biota are usually (but not always) less diverse than more stable biota.

    I think in all fairness we should see this from their standpoint as well. “Oh boy! All of Central Park has become disturbed habitat, Go for it guys!”

    However I can tell those pioneering “researchers” in advance that it doesn’t last. Such “weedy” species can’t compete long-term with forms better adapted to more stable habitat, so in a few years time things will be back to normal. Particularly for arthropods which are well-nigh impossible to exterminate.

    By the way all urban organisms tend to be a bit “weedy”, species that require really long-term stability don’t do well in cities. Dandelions, not Sequoias.

  18. “Urban insects are more resilient in extreme weather”

    Urban insects? Really! Insects are tough little things, been around a lot longer than, so called, intelligent mammals such as humans. Insects can be thrust up high in to the atmosphere, freeze, fall back to earth, thaw and go about what they were doing before the interruption as if it never happened.

    I agree, this study is junk!

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