The Rich Even Have Better Bugs in Their Homes

Homes in higher income areas host bugs of wider diversity, which comes from a healthier outside ecosystem.

The perks of living in a wealthy neighborhood include better indoor bugs, according to a new study that found higher income areas have greater bug diversity, which is an indicator of a healthier ecosystem.

Earlier studies have shown that plants, birds, bats and lizards are also more diverse in wealthier neighborhoods, but the new study, published in the journal Royal Society Biology Letters, is the first to show that the "luxury effect" extends to indoor creatures.

"The luxury effect is the observed phenomenon of elevated biodiversity in neighborhoods of greater affluence," lead author Misha Leong, a postdoctoral researcher at the California Academy of Sciences' Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability, told Discovery News. "Our paper shows that despite the perceived impermeability of our homes, this effect can extend indoors as well. This is likely due to homes acting as reflections of the ecological dynamics occurring outdoors."

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The study focused on arthropods, which include insects, spiders, crustaceans and other organisms without a backbone or spinal column and that have a segmented body, jointed limbs, and usually a rigid external body covering. Leong and colleagues Matthew Bertone, Keith Bayless, Robert Dunn and Michelle Trautwein surveyed living and dead arthropods found inside 50 homes within a 40-mile radius of central Raleigh, North Carolina.

The researchers found that homes in wealthier neighborhoods host higher indoor arthropod diversity that were mostly not pests. Part of the reason is a higher abundance of outside vegetation nearby -- even when the homes, themselves, didn't necessary have private gardens.

"This can be due to neighbors investing more in landscaping with plants, city parks being closer, or other management decisions that influence local vegetation and are dependent on financial resources and social priorities," Leong said.

In short, it takes a village to have good bugs.

A caveat to the findings is that the luxury effect applies more to suburban and borderline rural and urban areas rather than to highly vegetated rural environments or to major urban centers. Any home in a in rural area, for example, is likely to have greater indoor biodiversity than, say, an expensive penthouse suite in Manhattan.

Even if a person is stuck in a lower income home with a bunch of indoor pest bugs there is still hope, the researchers suggest.

"Improving one's individual property can make a difference both directly and indirectly," Leong said. "It can contribute to providing resources for local arthropods, and also serve as a catalyst for inspiring change in other neighbors. It's been observed, especially with front yards, that neighbors tend to copy/emulate one another in landscaping decisions."

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The best solution is to invest in native plants from a variety of species. Organic gardening further encourages a well-balanced arthropod population, some of whose members would invariably find their way indoors from time to time.

It's close to impossible to keep a home entirely bug-free. People and pets bring some insects in, while other arthropods either intentionally, or by mistake, wind up indoors.

Vernard Lewis, an urban entomologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told Discovery News that the new research is important because it "will add baseline information that can aid in new neighborhood development, planning open spaces, pest management policies and public science education."

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