Rats enjoying city food (Photo credit: mhdchill, Flickr)
. . . of course, there was a good reason that people were using pesticides in the medians — cities are excellent habitats for rats. We provide rats with abundant food, plenty of shelter and an environment relatively free of competitors and predators. So, it is unsurprising that highly urbanized city centers, like Manhattan, are absolutely rife with rats! Whether sampling in parks or medians, walking between study sites, or even sitting down to eat lunch, I saw rats nearly every day. However, my actual interactions with them were uncommon and brief. Occasionally, they absconded with and damaged vials containing my ant baits (see above). Once a rat fell out of a tree right next to me while I was collecting (luckily this only happened once). And then there was the time they scurried around my feet while I stopped to eat lunch in a crowded square. As a biologist, I find the behaviors and ecology of urban rats very interesting! I wonder, for example, how these rodents are affecting urban ecosystems generally and am particularly interested in how their activities differ in Manhattan parks and medians. How do they influence the ants? Do they change ecosystem processes, like decomposition and nutrient cycling? How do these effects compare to the effects of rats in Chicago? Houston? Shanghai? Berlin? But, of course, those questions are much easier to ask when the rats are far away from me. The 12-year old little girl in me is still pretty grossed out when a rat falls at my feet!!
Despite the challenges I faced studying ants in New York City, I think there are a lot of advantages of doing field work in the urban jungle. In my next post, I’ll share the top 5 benefits of studying ecology in the big city…
Amy Savage is an ecologist who’s jazzed about ants and their beneficial relationships with other insects and plants. Her research on ant mutualisms has taken her to Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, Panama, Washington State (USA), and most recently, to New York City (USA) with the School of Ants project.