In addition to the deadwood proposal I’ve written for my postdoctoral work, I have also written (and continue to write) a proposal on conservation of insects in urban areas- cities! City bug conservation is something that I’ve been thinking about for years and really want to pursue either right after I finish my PhD next year, or in the future as my own research program.
I am a staunch supporter of species-based conservation because I am certain that if we do not understand the requirements of the species we are trying to conserve, we can’t do it! Common species like house flies are generalists found everywhere- meaning they can pretty much live in, mate in, lay their eggs in, and eat whatever they can find laying around, be it a squirrel corpse or a rotting fruit. Specialist species are those that are dependent on certain resources to survive, species that have coevolved and share a unique relationship with other species or specific habitats. For example, the Ohlone tiger beetle has evolved in naturally disturbed costal terrace prairie on the central coast of California; the Yucca Moth has evolved to pollinate and lay its eggs in only Yucca plants and the Yucca, in turn, can only be pollinated by the Yucca Moth. Cool stuff.
As you can imagine, most rare species or endangered species are those that are specialists that need specific habitats or resources to survive because they are more vulnerable to destruction of those habitats and resources, such as happens in cities. While cities may seem like a lot of pavement (which the are), they are still atop soil and the people in them still need clean air and water to breathe. More people live in cities today than ever before and with the increasing acknowledgement of sustainability, city planners are advocating for and creating more urban green spaces. The goal of many green spaces and parks are to provide areas for recreation, increase human health, and sometimes even for growing food. Habitat is not always on the list of goals. I’d like to change that.
My idea is that if you can diversify the habitat resources in green spaces, you can really attract a plethora of insect diversity. When I say habitat resources, I mean host plants for butterflies, ponds for dragonflies, logs for deadwood beetles, and native plants for native bees! In addition, biodiversity is intricately linked to ecosystem services, or clean water and air for us humans, so more bugs should mean less pollutants. This idea has been shown for plants- or that more plants=less pollutants (see here and here)- but insects play SO many roles from pollination, seed dispersal, soil aeration, decomposition of animals, plants, and poop, that it seems to me that the pattern of reduced pollutants with more biodiversity would hold with insects too! And that is what I want to find out in my research.
If I am able to make a case that more types of bugs in the city will make green spaces healthier for people, I feel that I can really advance our understanding of what it means to have a sustainable city. In addition, or maybe even more importantly, I will be able to make a case for insect conservation and restoration of insect habitat in urban green spaces and get bugs back in the city!