My Ant Research

Ants, Conservation and Urban Parks

When a gardner grows a garden, they have to understand a number characteristics to make it thrive and survive, such as the amount of water, light, food and impact of predation among others. In conservation, the same holds true when protecting ecosystems, Understanding the characteristics of areas that enhance biodiversity is critical in order to preserve and manage them effectively. While tropical ecosystems get the most attention in conservation, urban ecosystems are also critical to preserve.

Importance of Urban Ecosystems

In cities and urban areas, existing natural areas play a critical role in safeguarding remaining biodiversity. In any metropolitan city, the presence of “green” areas, for example urban wetlands, woodlands or grassland, represent a patchwork of important ecosystems. These areas contribute to the bio-geo-chemical cycle in an urban environment and a vital component of any city or urban area for a number of reasons and thus need to be studied and conserved.

Homes for Animals:

These areas provide habitats for various animals, birds, and insects, which have adapted to these systems. These animals act as pollinators and seed-dispersal agents. Scavengers, like kites, crows or jackals, play the active role of janitors. Reptiles, for example snakes, are vital biological pest control agents. Fresh water turtles also perform the function of keeping the water clean by feeding on decaying materials. Urban biota could also be biological indicators of the health of the environment.

Pollution Control:

Trees and other vegetation types are the lungs of the urban environment and play an important role in partially removing or recycling some of the pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

Education & Aesthetic Value:

Who doesn’t like to take a walk in a natural environment in a city? It provides sanctuary and calm from an often busy and noisy environment. Also, one of the most important components in any conservation happens to be public awareness. Urban parks serve an important purpose for schools that use this medium to observe and understand the way the ecosystem functions.

Growing Impacts:

With populations and human needs growing in a typical metropolitan city, pressure on the local flora and fauna increases, and thus the vital services they provide. The impact of industrialization and real estate, the uncontrolled waste disposal and propagation of alien plant species, overexploitation of natural resources and habitat loss has already altered the composure of the urban ecosystem drastically.

Importance of Ants

* Ants enrich and turn more soil than earthworms. * Disperse seeds of an estimated 30% of all herbaceous (non-woody) plants. Ants an important food source for many animals from woodpeckers to bears. * Are the primary predators of other insects. * Ants make up 10% to 15% of the world’s animal biomass! 

My Research:

For my graduate research, I examined ant communities and characteristics that influence their composition in San Francisco urban parks. San Francisco is an ideal research location because it is located in a biodiversity hotspot harboring a number of rare and endemic species and is the second most densely populated city in the USA. Ants are also a perfect subject to look at because they are an important component of any ecosystem. They enrich soil, distribute plant seeds, are an important food for other animals and can act as a chief predator of small invertebrates. Ants are also excellent indicators of land management practices and restoration efforts because they are sensitive to habitat variation, respond quickly to changes in habitat quality and are easy to collect and identify. Additionally, urbanization has already taken a heavy toll on the biodiversity of San Francisco. Three butterfly extinctions, including the first recorded in the USA, have been recorded within city limits and are attributed to habitat loss due to development. Other studies found an estimated 43% of the city’s butterfly species have also been lost and that many bee species to be locally extinct. If we understand better what characteristics of these parks influence biodiveristy, we can protect them better.

Science Publication: Biodiversity and abundance of ants in San Francisco Parks.

Clarke K.M., Fisher B.L., LeBuhn G. 2008. The Influence of Urban Park Characteristics on Ant (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) Communities. Urban Ecosystems 3, pp. 317-334.