Study: Your house is filled with arthropods

"We think our homes are sterile environments, but they're not," researcher Matt Bertone said.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 19, 2016 at 10:40 AM
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RALEIGH, N.C., Jan. 19 (UPI) -- It may come as no surprise to American homeowners that their humble abode is also a hotel for bugs. It was a surprise to scientists, however, to learn of the tremendous arthropod biodiversity hiding indoors.

During a recent survey of 50 free-standing homes near Raleigh, N.C., a team of entomologists collected and identified 579 different morphospecies of arthropods from 304 different families.

According to the findings, published this week in the journal PeerJ, the average home hosts roughly 100 arthropod morphospecies.

"This was exploratory work to help us get an understanding of which arthropods are found in our homes," lead study author Matt Bertone, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, said in a press release. "Nobody had done an exhaustive inventory like this one, and we found that our homes host far more biodiversity than most people would expect."

Flies, spiders, beetles, ants and book lice were the most commonly collected creatures. But many of the specimens were transient in nature, not permanent residents.

"While we collected a remarkable diversity of these creatures, we don't want people to get the impression that all of these species are actually living in everyone's homes," Bertone said. "Many of the arthropods we found had clearly wandered in from outdoors, been brought in on cut flowers or were otherwise accidentally introduced. Because they're not equipped to live in our homes, they usually die pretty quickly."

Researchers used the term morphospecies -- as opposed to species -- to describe their classification methods. The method allows scientists to classify specimens based on obvious morphological differences between individuals -- extensive taxonomic training not necessary.

"We think our homes are sterile environments, but they're not," Bertone added. "We share our space with many different species, most of which are benign. The fact that you don't know they're there only highlights how little we interact with them."

The new research is a natural extension of the increasing interest in urban ecology. Scientists say the study offers new investigative possibilities.

"Now that we have a better idea of which species are most common in homes, we can focus on studying them," said Michelle Trautwein, study co-author and researcher at the California Academy of Sciences.

"Do they provide important services that we don't know about in the ecosystems of our homes? Do any host microbial organisms that affect our health, for good or bad? And we can also begin to explore their traits to see if they share evolutionary characteristics that have made them better suited to live with humans," Trautwein said.

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