Hurricane Effects on Urban Arthropods

The frequency of extreme weather events is predicted to increase due to global climate change.  Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City with high winds, rain, and storm surge.  The human and economic toll of this storm was record-breaking but the ecological toll is unknown.  Arthropods, such as insects, spiders, and millipedes, are the most abundant and diverse animals in cities.  Urban arthropods perform many services, such as decomposing human refuse, but they can also be pests of buildings and plants. Our goal is to understand how Hurricane Sandy changed ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling arthropod communities in New York City and how these changes affect the services or disservices they provide.

Urban arthropod communities consist of native and exotic species.  They exist in stressful habitats, such as road medians, but also in less stressful habitats such as parks.  Ecological theories predict that exotic species should become more abundant and native species less abundant and diverse after disturbance.  Other theories predict that communities living in stressful habitats should be more resilient to disturbance than communities in less stressful habitats.  Changes in arthropod species composition could upset food webs and reduce the ecosystem services they provide.  It could also allow some species such as tree pests to proliferate unchecked by predators.

We are in a unique position to understand how disturbances such as Hurricane Sandy affect animal communities; we have been sampling the arthropod communities present in NYC parks, road medians, and trees for five years.  We will resample these areas in 2013 to determine:

1. how prior exposure to chronic environmental stress affects communities’ response to an acute disturbance (Hurricane Sandy) in New York City (NYC);

2. whether native and exotic species respond differently to the interactive effects of chronic stress and acute disturbance; and

3. how disturbance-related changes in urban arthropod communities alter ecosystem processes.nsf_logo

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