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Ickiness, Well Documented
Aug 7 2013 9:21AM Posted by David Ludwig, Ph.D.
Human civilization is festooned with closely coevolved fellow travelers. Where people go, commensals, parasites, and disease organisms follow. And their impact on urban ecosystem patterns and processes are not trivial. Rats and mice vector diseases and compete with us for food resources. Cats and dogs hunt the rodents, but leave substantial pollutants via urine and feces, and vector other diseases. Starlings, pigeons, and house sparrows are ubiquitous and suppress populations of native birds. Insects from roaches to flies (including mosquitoes) are pests and disease vectors themselves. Mites and nematodes dwell in, on and around us to the degree that yields the parasitology aphorism that “if you took away all the anthropogenic things in the biosphere except mites and nematodes, you’d be left with a ghostly three dimensional model” of the biosphere. And the microbial community of human ecosystems is phenomenally diverse and productive.

There are many ways to view and investigate the people-dependent components of the larger ecosystem. An interesting and important aspect that is in general under-studied is the relationship of pests and parasites to social status and wealth of their individual human hosts. Dawn Biehler at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) has tackled this relationship in a creative and up-to-date survey, a study about to be published as a book titled “Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats” by the University of Washington Press. A well-written summary of the book, with insights into Biehler’s methods and objectives, is available in the summer 2013 UMBC Magazine. Based on that preliminary read, and given the obvious importance and immediate relevance of the subject, I recommend that the book be read by a wide audience, including educated lay city dwellers along with scientists and urban ecosystem specialists. I have my copy pre-ordered, and I commend the book to you, whether or not your specialty has any direct relationship to urban ecosystems. We all depend on the social and physical functioning of cities. This book will provide important insights into one of the many monkey wrenches on its way into the ecosystem machinery.

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