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Biodiversity survey in LA turns up 30 new species of flies

"Right now we’re finding out what’s here -- and it’s more than we ever expected," said researcher Emily Hartop.

By Brooks Hays
Biodiversity survey in LA turns up 30 new species of flies
Fly specimens caught during the biodiversity survey in Los Angeles. Photo by Kelsey Bailey/Emily Hartop/NHM

LOS ANGELES, March 26 (UPI) -- Scientists have confirmed the presence of 30 new fly species in urban Los Angeles, having completed a thorough survey of the sprawling city's environs. The so-called BioSCAN project was carried out by researchers with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The survey was conducted with the help of local residents who hosted insect traps in their backyards. Each trap was outfitted with a microclimate weather station that monitored localized conditions. Researchers periodically emptied the traps and analyzed the insects.

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Over the course of two years, researchers sorted through more than 10,000 fly specimens, confirming the existence of 30 new species -- all of them from the genus Megaselia. Different genitalia were the main factor by which scientists identified possible new species, but DNA analysis was used to confirm genetic differentiation.

Writing of the ongoing research process on an NHM blog, project scientist Emily Hartop explained: "speaking of genitalia: I'm going to say 90% of our identification work focuses on these for flies, we are obsessed with fly genitalia."

Scientists are only just beginning to really pay attention to urban ecosystems as a place to study biodiversity.

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"I always thought we had the potential to discover new species wherever we sample -- urban, tropical, anywhere. But 30 new species from a heavily urbanized area is really astounding," Brian Brown, the curator of entomology at the museum, explained in a press release.

But more than just a place to find new species, researchers say that understanding urban ecosystems is increasingly important as more and more humans (and animals) populate cities.

"Right now we're finding out what's here -- and it's more than we ever expected," said Hartop. "By linking these biodiversity results with the physical data we're collecting at these sites, we'll be able to contribute directly to the policy."

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