Can You Guess How Many Ant Species Live On Broadway? [NC State Study]

Nov 13, 2014

The odorous house ant (Tapinoma sessile) was the most common species found in parks and forests, but was absent in street medians.
Credit Adrian Smith

A new study out of North Carolina State University suggests there's a remarkably high diversity in the types of ants found in cities.

Published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, the paper looks at different environments along Broadway Avenue in Manhattan. Researchers found more than 20 different species of ants in the median of the road alone. They found more than 20 other species in the surrounding parks and urban forests.

A majority of the world's human populations now live in cities, meaning interaction with all of these species is increasing.

Pavement ants (Tetramorium) on human food in a Manhattan street median. Pavement ants were the most common species found on street medians.
Credit Amy Savage / NC State

"They're one of the only habitats in the world that are actually growing," said lead author and NC State post-doc, Dr. Amy Savage. "And so that means if we want to try to understand what our future landscapes are going to look like, then looking at cities is a good microcosm of that."

The  paper is published online in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity. All the species documented were found along Broadway Ave. in New York.

Remarkably, half the species were found only in the median, suggesting the ants aren't reliant on just one set of conditions for diversity to occur.

"If all that mattered were how close these street medians were to parks and forests, you'd expect to see these species really clustered wherever the original colony was," said Savage. "But that's not what we find."

Amy Savage, collecting samples on a street median in Manhattan.
Credit Shelby Anderson / NC State