Look closely at any urban or forest tree and you will find hundreds of insect and mite species scattered here and there feeding on leaves or sap. Most never become pests. A few species become pests only after some change in the environment – like warming temperatures. These are called sleeper species.
Your backyard is the setting for a great ecological debate, and you may engage in this debate, knowingly or not, every spring.
Like we observed in Raleigh, we found that impervious surface was a robust predictor of tree condition, and that one set of thresholds could be used for red maples across the Southeast.
We are not the only scientists using cities as surrogates for climate change. However, this line of research is in its infancy. We conducted a literature review, led by postdoc Nora Lahr, to compile all the research we could find in which cities were used to predict the effects of climate change.
It is nice to be reminded of why I am an ecologist, why I study trees, and why I care about helping trees grow in cities. Photosynthesis is cool!
As a Masters’ student in the Frank lab, I study relatively small organisms called ground beetles. Ground beetles are used to monitor forest health because they are common, vary in food and habitat requirements, and are sensitive to human-caused disturbances.
A mystery began to nag at me. Some trees in the hottest areas within cities were covered in insect pests and still looked vigorous, while other trees with the same pest densities withered.
Urban yards can be tough for bees. There are often not enough flowers, or the wrong kinds of flowers, so people compensate with pollinator gardens. However, cities are also hot, due to impervious surfaces and the urban heat island effect.
Unless you want an itchy rash, your best bet is to steer clear of these little critters altogether. And if you’re a couple of scientists trying to insert a data logger into a nest filled with two hundred of them? Well, your best bet is to suit up.
For many years, scientists have used forest maps to focus their predictions about where these itchy caterpillars might spread. But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the PPM doesn’t actually need forests. It just needs trees, and it’s willing to accept the ones in the front yard, thank you very much.