Does the creation of pocket prairies improve the conservation value of urban vacant land for ant communities?

Research Poster
Alex Tyrpak
Mary Gardiner
Department of Entomology

Shrinking cities such as Cleveland, OH, have experienced population loss, resulting in an overabundance of infrastructure that is demolished, creating vacant land. Vacant land is viewed as a blight but these greenspaces may have the potential to promote biodiversity and ecosystem services. Nevertheless, urban soil quality has been shaped by decades of heavy metal pollution, which could limit the conservation value of vacant land. Our aim was to determine if creating “pocket prairies” consisting of native wildflowers on vacant lots promoted ant species richness. We chose ants because of their ecological value as biological indicators. We compared pocket prairie ant communities with those in vacant lots and Metroparks. Vacant lots consisted of early successional weedy vegetation representing current inner-city land management practices. Metroparks are suburban preserves of second-growth forest and viewed as the principal urban conservation habitat for the greater Cleveland area. We hypothesized that establishing pocket prairies would promote species richness, but that Metroparks would be a superior habitat for ants. Further we predicted that soil contamination would be negatively associated with ant richness. We collected ants monthly (June – August 2018) using pitfall traps. Our data did not support our initial hypothesis, as species richness was equivalent within vacant lots and pocket prairies and lower within Metroparks in July. Surprisingly, we did not observe a significant relationship between soil lead (Pb) contamination and ant species richness. Our results indicate that urban vacant land is highly suitable for several ant species, which can persist in soils with high Pb contamination.