Thisi a guest post by Aaron Pomerantz, a version of which originally appeared on the author’s website The Next Gen Scientist. Search through hundreds of citizen science projects on SciStarter to find one that gets you buzzing!
A recent study has revealed thirty species that are new to science living in the bustling city of Los Angeles. This is really exciting news because we usually don’t think of urbanized areas as having biologically diverse environments. Our human-made habitat seems removed from nature; buildings and concrete replacing trees and earth. But our lack of information on urban environments has turned into an interesting research opportunity. A few years ago, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County initiated a project called BioSCAN to search for biodiversity, also known as the variety of life forms.
How they did it
It all started with setting up insect traps in the back yards of LA residents. Once a week, these traps were collected, brought back to the museum, and sorted. Emily Hartop and Dr. Brian Brown are the BioSCAN scientists who spearheaded the study for these 30 new species. They focused on the identification of phorids, a group of flies that are small in size but big in diversity.
Emily put in the incredible amount of time required to describe these insects. The process involves carefully inspecting, measuring, and illustrating the physical features of each fly (including fly genitalia). Emily then had the task of comparing her specimens to every known phorid in the world to determine if hers were indeed different. But after all the hours of hard work under the microscope, they now have 30 flies that are new to science. They chose to name each species in honor of the volunteers who hosted the BioSCAN collections in their yards.
So what comes next? In our rapidly changing world, the fauna of cities remains poorly understood. This gives ample opportunity for the next generation of scientists and citizen scientists to uncover more unknown species, describe their life histories, observe new behaviors, and teach us all how these enigmatic creatures impact the urban ecosystem and affect our lives.
So just remember, you don’t need to travel to a far-off tropical land to find a new species. Maybe you, or your son or daughter, will be inspired to step outside and take a closer look at the natural world around you – and who knows, you may find something new!
Aaron Pomerantz is a scientist who specializes in one of the most important groups of living organisms on the planet: insects! He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Entomology from the University of California Riverside and a Master of Science degree in Entomology and Molecular Biology from the University of Florida. Aaron is currently a Science Reporter for Rainforest Expeditions, which involves organizing expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon with teams of biologists, photographers, and filmmakers to share stories about scientific research, wildlife, and discoveries. Follow him @AaronPomerantz