Pests in the City and the Junkfood Diet of Ants

Flickr | Kate Haskel | CC

It may seem only tangentially related, but this episode of Science for the People will yield many fascinating insights to anyone interested in agriculture and nutrition.

This week, we’re exploring the ways human-made environments support – and shape – the lives of many species we think of as vermin. We’ll talk to Geography and Environmental Studies Professor Dawn Day Biehler about her book “Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats.” And we’ll speak to postdoctoral researcher Clint Penick about his research on the junk food diets of urban ants.

One of the many things it got me thinking about is how much human civilization impacts other species and not always in ways that limit them. Some species have been particularly well suited to taking advantage of the habitat and food supply that humans create. The example in the podcast that got me thinking about this was flies and waste. For awhile, when we weren’t terribly good at disposing of waste, fly populations sky rocketed. When we got better at it, mammoth numbers of flies were decimated and to little regret or protest.

However, it had occurred to me some time back that when we observe the decline in Monarch populations as farms get better at removing milkweed from their properties, what we might be seeing is a return to mean as milk weed had piggybacked and thrived on farms in the Midwest until recently and Monarch populations had piggybacked on the milk weed’s success. Shockingly, I wasn’t the first person to think of this.
Hat tip to University of Wyoming weed science prof, Andrew Kniss.

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