Scientists counted every species in their home, and got a big surprise: ScienceAlert

We are biodiversity researchers – an ecologist, a mathematician and a taxonomist – who are locked together during the COVID pandemic.

Confined indoors, it didn't take long to start wondering how many species of plants and animals we were sharing space with. So we set about counting them all.

We guessed around 200-300 and many of our colleagues guessed the same.

There is nothing unusual about our 400 square meter plot of land in Annerley, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. About half the block is occupied by three-bedroom houses.

What was extraordinary was the number of species we found there. As our just-published study reveals, the lockdown will begin on day one and continue over a one-year period. 1,150 species On our inner-city property.

Familiar faces and rare individuals

Many species can be found on the east coast suburban Australians: ibises, brush turkeys, kookaburras, possums and flying foxes. But, surprisingly, others are rarely recorded.

In fact, three of the 1,150 species in Australia's leading biodiversity database have never been documented. This includes a rare species of mosquito, a sand fly and a Invasive tapeworm This will reduce the number of native snails.

We found common enemies, but also many friends. That rare mosquito is one of 13 mosquito species we have identified. Pantry weevils and grain weevils were present on shelves, but spiders gave way to preying on them (we recorded 56 species).

For want of our labour, the weeds were luxuriant; Of the 103 plant species we documented on the property, 100 were non-native.

However, with the exception of weeds, most species were actually native. Our two large lily-of-the-valley trees provided shade, shelter and food, plenty of pollinators and magnets for other creatures.

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Bees and butterflies

Blue-banded bees sleep with their mandibles clinging to plant stems. (Andrew Rogers)

The yard was full of pollinators. For example, there were hoverflies that, at a quick glance, you might think were wasps. We had ten species, a fraction of the more than 109 flies we found.

Native blue banded bees and fluffy teddybear bees crawl in the hedges below our windows at night. They were just two of the more than 70 bee and wasp species we observed.

We also counted 436 species of butterflies and moths. A few were as large as a human hand, but most were small and barely noticeable. Some were brightly colored, others – like the vampire moth Calyptra miniticornis – seemed boring until we started studying their behavior.

Moth Scatochresis numerous Another interesting thing: as a caterpillar, it lives inside a single flower before emerging as an adult.

Caterpillars Parylirchis concolor, another moth, lives in a spider's web, surviving on the spider's food waste, while the adults can be seen hanging from the web like a bat. I don't know how spiders avoid being eaten.

Photograph of a brown moth hanging in a spider web.
Caterpillars of the moth Parilyrgis concolor live in spider webs, and adults often hang from the webs like bats. (Russell Yong)

Wasps and beetles

We recorded ten species of lycaenid „blue” butterflies, many of which use ants to protect their caterpillars from predators, including some wasp species that will lay eggs on them if given the chance.

These wasps are called parasitoids – meaning their young hatch in other organisms, eventually killing them. Some of these wasps even parasitize other parasitic wasps. Our urban homes are clearly complex ecosystems.

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Photo of a small orange and black bug on a thin tree branch.
A small braconid wasp that parasitizes other insects. ((Matthew Holden)

We were surprised to find fewer than 100 beetle species (the fourth most common group of species in our study). Beetles are widely believed to be the most diverse order of insects on the planet.

Our discovery may be a sign of declining beetle populations, which are being observed around the world. On the other hand, it could be a bad year for beetles in our neighborhood.

An urban environment full of life

Overall, we found more species than expected and showed that even urban environments can be rich in wildlife.

A big reason for that is of course the plants: the shrubs, trees and weeds in the yard. A monotony of perfectly manicured lawns and heavily sprayed and manicured flowerbeds is beautiful for children to play on, but as a habitat for urban wildlife, it falls short.

Our own laziness did little chores in the garden. However, by giving the mower and pesticides a break and sacrificing some lawns for native trees, shrubs and flowering weeds, we ended up with something very valuable.

But whatever you do to maintain your home, check your porch or balcony lights tonight and keep an eye out for urban wildlife around your home. No matter how urban you live, you can still enjoy some amazing nature.Conversation

Matthew H. HoldenLecturer, School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Queensland; Andrew RogersPhD student, University of QueenslandAnd Russell QY YongPhD Candidate, Marine Parasitology, University of Queensland

This article has been republished Conversation Under Creative Commons License. Read on Original article.

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