There’s an old saying which states that after the apocalypse, after all the people and the animals and the plants are gone from the planet, that cockroaches will remain because they are so adaptable.
It’s now looking as if flies might be in the same category.
Something called Biodiversity Science: City and Nature (or BioSCAN for short), is a joint effort between citizen scientists and the Museum of Natural Art History in Los Angeles, and what they’ve discovered is pretty amazing.
Thirty different species of flies were caught in 30 traps that were set out in varying parts of Los Angeles. All of the flies were members of the phorid family, and as such, most of the flies weren’t even the size of a kitchen fruit fly. Even though these phorid flies usually fly around unnoticed, Brian Brown, a Los Angeles-based entomologist, says that they play a crucial role in maintaining the city’s ecosystem.
Apparently, the phorid family flies play many roles in the environment. Some of them eat fungi, some aid in removing decaying matter from the ecosystem, some cut down insect populations, and some even burrow down several feet into the ground to lay their eggs on dead bodies.
As amazing as the phorid family flies are, what’s even more amazing about BioSCAN’s three-year project is the sheer diversity of the phorid family. The idea that 30 separate traps, catching over 10,000 individual flies, contained 30 brand new species of flies indicates that the adaptability and diversity of the common fly are more remarkable than scientists ever imagined.
Though such a large percentage of the human population now lives in urban centers like Los Angeles, little has been done to study the diversity of animals in large cities. BioSCAN plans to change all that. Their latest findings will be published in the April edition of the science journal Zootaxa.
Scientists say that since the percentage of people who live in urban areas will only increase in the future, understanding how different organisms play different roles in urban ecosystems is extremely important.
The lead author of the BioSCAN paper, Emily Hartop, explains that the study of the phorid flies is all about planning for the future.
“Right now we’re finding out what’s here – and it’s more than we ever expected. By linking these biodiversity results with the physical data we’re collecting at these sites, we’ll be able to contribute directly to the policy discussion of how best to plan and manage urban biodiversity.”
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]