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Spiderman on Broadway? ‘Been There, Done That,’ Say Ants

• January 24, 2011 • 6:00 AM

Insect biologist Rob Dunn has uncovered a hot spot of insect biodiversity — Manhattan.

Most people think of cities as the opposite of nature, but the truth is that urban areas are teeming with life. Crows, dandelions, and squirrels – to name just a few – are not most people’s idea of wild life, but all sorts of species are found in cities. We see the pigeons and the house sparrows all around us on a daily basis, but because biologists have generally avoided studying the species found in cities, we actually know next to nothing about the ecology of urban species.

In many ways, the Brazilian rainforest is better known to ecologists thManhattan skylinean the concrete jungle. Dr. Rob Dunn, an insect biologist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University, is piercing the mysteries of urban ecology. In a recent study in the journal PLoS One, he hunted down the biodiversity of one of the most urbanized places in the world: Manhattan, New York City. Looking at narrow planted strips on the medians of busy streets, he found many more ant species than anyone had imagined could be there.

Jai Ranganathan
Dr. Jai Ranganathan is a biologist and his research focuses on questions of species conservation. He can be reached at jai.ranganathan at gmail.com.

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