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Handling the Heat: Plasticity of an Arthropod Pest in Response to the Urban Heat Island

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In recent years, ecologists have begun to study the effects of urbanization on species diversity. While urban areas generally suffer decreased biodiversity, some species, termed “urban exploiters”, not only live

In recent years, ecologists have begun to study the effects of urbanization on species diversity. While urban areas generally suffer decreased biodiversity, some species, termed “urban exploiters”, not only live in the city but depend on urban resources to thrive. It is hypothesized that urban exploiters may succeed in part due to phenotypic plasticity, in which organisms rapidly adjust their physiology or behavior to adapt to novel environmental contexts. In the city, it may be adaptive to display thermal plasticity, as the urban heat island effect caused by concrete and asphalt infrastructure prevents cooling at night. In this study, we observed the decorated cricket Gryllodes sigillatus, an invasive urban exploiter found in metropolitan Phoenix, in two separate experiments. We hypothesized that heat tolerance and activity are both plastic traits in this species. In Experiment 1, we predicted that knock-down time, a measure of heat tolerance, would be negatively affected by acclimation to a laboratory environment. Our results suggest that heat tolerance is affected by recent thermal regimes and that laboratory acclimation decreases knock-down time. In Experiment 2, we predicted that activity would increase with temperature until a point of extreme heat, at which point activity would decline. Statistical analysis for the second experiment reveals that activity decreases at 33°C, a natural urban extreme. This suggests either that 33°C is a thermal limit to physiology or that G. sigillatus is able to alter its behavior to exploit local thermal heterogeneity.

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  • 2015-05

Urbanization alters herbivore rodent composition but not abundance

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Desert ecosystems are one of the fastest urbanizing areas on the planet. This rapid shift has the potential to alter the abundances and species richness of herbivore and plant communities.

Desert ecosystems are one of the fastest urbanizing areas on the planet. This rapid shift has the potential to alter the abundances and species richness of herbivore and plant communities. Herbivores, for example, are expected to be more abundant in urban desert remnant parks located within cities due to anthropogenic activities that concentrate food resources and reduce native predator populations. Despite this assumption, previous research conducted around Phoenix has shown that top-down herbivory led to equally reduced plant biomass. It is unclear if this insignificant difference in herbivory at rural and urban sites is due to unaltered desert herbivore populations or altered activity levels that counteract abundance differences. Vertebrate herbivore populations were surveyed at four sites inside and four sites outside of the core of Phoenix during fall 2014 and spring 2015 in order to determine whether abundances and richness differ significantly between urban and rural sites. In order to survey species composition and abundance at these sites, 100 Sherman traps and 8 larger wire traps that are designed to attract and capture small vertebrates such as mice, rats, and squirrels, were set at each site for two consecutive trap nights. Results suggest that the commonly assumed effect of urbanization on herbivore abundances does not apply to small rodent herbivore populations in a desert city, as overall small rodent abundances were statistically similar regardless of location. Though a significant difference was not found for species richness, a significant difference between small rodent genera richness at these sites was observed.

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  • 2016-05

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Seed Beetle Abundance and Diversity in Urban and Rural Sites

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The spread of urbanization leads to habitat fragmentation and deterioration and changes the composition of ecosystems for species all over the world. Different groups of organisms are impacted differently, and

The spread of urbanization leads to habitat fragmentation and deterioration and changes the composition of ecosystems for species all over the world. Different groups of organisms are impacted differently, and insects have experienced loss in diversity and abundance due to changing environmental factors. Here, I collected seed beetles across 12 urban and rural sites in Phoenix, Arizona, to analyze the effects of urbanization and habitat variation on beetle diversity and abundance. I found that urbanization, host tree origin, and environmental factors such as tree diversity and density had no impact on overall beetle diversity and abundance. Beetles were found to have higher density on hosts with a higher density of pods. In assessing individual beetle species, some beetles exhibited higher density in rural sites with native trees, and some were found more commonly on nonnative tree species. The observed differences in beetle density demonstrate the range of effects urbanization and environmental features can have on insect species. By studying ecosystem interactions alongside changing environments, we can better predict the role urbanization and human development can have on different organisms.

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  • 2018-05