Wealthier Households Have More Diverse Insect Populations


Despite living in newer and well-maintained homes, wealthier homeowners are more likely to host a number of different insects in their homes than other households in the country, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley examined just how much people are interconnected with their environment, despite the presence of physical barriers such as walls or fences between them.

Previous works by scientists have established that the wealth of a particular neighborhood may influence the diversity of plants and animals found in it. This could be because richer households tend to maintain more plants and other landscaping in their properties, which serve as habitats for various creatures.

However, nobody knows whether this same "luxury effect" could also apply to the diversity of insects often found inside these households.

Building on the findings of their earlier study that found a variety of insects in 50 households in North Carolina, UC Berkley entomologist Misha Leong and her colleagues combined the data with three factors that influence the diversity of arthropods in an area: the mean income of the neighborhood, the size of the house and the amount of vegetation present on the property.

Of these three factors, the size of the house appears to play the most significant role in determining the diversity of critters found in a home. As one could imagine, larger homes have more crevices and corners, which insects could easily turn into suitable habitats.

Another key factor is the income of the home's inhabitants. According to Leong, wealthier individuals tend to maintain more green spaces, such as plant boxes and gardens, in their properties. Many of the insects that live in these green areas often make their way indoors.

Even homes that do not have gardens can still serve as a magnet for bugs as long as they are found in affluent neighborhoods. Chances are these homes are still near enough to a park or a neighbor that does have a green area, making them prime habitats for diverse insect populations.

"Choices made at the neighborhood scale by your neighbors or your local government can have an effect on what's going on in your kitchen floor," Leong said.

While the results of the study help establish the luxury effect on insect diversity in households, there are still some exceptions to this phenomenon. One of which is the difference between high-income homes and low-income rural homes.

Mississippi households, for example, have more diverse insect populations because they tend to be surrounded by more plants, even though they may not have as high an income as those in New York City.

The researchers also focused their examinations more on freestanding houses, which were often found in middle and high-income areas, than on units in apartment buildings.

Leong and her colleagues are now continuing their examinations of arthropod diversity in households in other areas in Sweden, the Peruvian Amazon and the Bay Area in San Francisco. Initial results show that homes in these areas are equally biodiverse despite the range of locales.

The findings of the UC Berkley study are featured in the journal Biology Letters.

Photo: Kagawa YMG | Flickr 

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