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Insects Are New York’s Tiny Garbage Men

When you think of New York City, you usually think of large buildings and pavement–not insects. But it turns out that these arthropods play a huge role in the city’s ecosystem.

Scientists have discovered that insects dispose of garbage in the streets of Manhattan.

Flickr

Flickr

The researchers were actually in the middle of a long-term study of urban insects when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. In the spring of 2013, the scientists expanded their study to look at whether Sandy had affected the behavior of these insect populations.

They sampled insects and millipedes in street medians and parks in Manhattan to sample biodiversity.

Then, they tested to see how much garbage the arthropods consumed and whether they consumed more in some places than in others.

The researchers put out carefully measured amounts of junk food at sites in street medians and city parks. Two sets of food were placed at each site; one in a cage where only arthropods could reach and one in the open where other animals could also eat it.

So what did they find? It turns out that arthropod populations in medians ate two to three times more junk food than those in parks, even though there was less biodiversity in the medians.

“We calculate that the arthropods on medians down the Broadway/West St. corridor alone could consume more than 2,100 pounds of discarded junk food, the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs, ever year-assuming they take a break in the winter,” said Elsa Youngsteadt, one of the researchers, in a news release. “This isn’t just a silly fact. This highlights a very real service that these arthropods provide. They effectively dispose of our trash for us.”

The findings reveal a bit more about the role that insects play in a city. They are effective garbage disposals that help keep streets clean.

The findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Insects Are New York’s Tiny Garbage Men.

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From San Diego, California. "Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshiped and fondled like a priceless diamond." -Hunter S. Thompson