Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 371–384 | Cite as

Silphids in urban forests: Diversity and function

  • Jordan M. Wolf
  • James P. Gibbs


Many ecologists have examined the process of how urbanization reduces biological diversity but rarely have its ecological consequences been assessed. We studied forest-dwelling burying beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae)—a guild of insects that requires carrion to complete their life cycles—along an urban-rural gradient of land use in Maryland. Our objective was to determine how forest fragmentation associated with urbanization affects (1) beetle community diversity and structure and (2) the ecological function provided by these insects, that is, decomposition of vertebrate carcasses. Forest fragmentation strongly reduced burying beetle diversity and abundance, and did so far more pervasively than urbanization of the surrounding landscape. The likelihood that beetles interred experimental baits was a direct, positive function of burying beetle diversity. We conclude that loss of burying beetle diversity resulting from forest fragmentation could have important ecological consequences in urban forests.


diversity ecological function forest fragmentation Silphidae urban forests 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson, R.S. and Peck, S.B. (1985) The Insects and Arachnids of Canada: Part 13. Canadian Government Publishing Centre, Ottawa, Ontario.Google Scholar
  2. Andrén, H. (1994) Effects of habitat fragmentation on birds and mammals in landscapes with different proportions of suitable habitat: A review. Oikos 71, 355–366.Google Scholar
  3. Blair, R.B. (1996). Land use and avian species diversity along an urban gradient. Ecological Applications 6, 506–519.Google Scholar
  4. Blair, R.B. and Launer, A.E. (1997) Butterfly diversity and human land use: Species assemblages along an urban gradient. Biological Conservation 80, 113–125.Google Scholar
  5. Blouin-Demers, G. and Weatherfield, P.J. (2000) A novel association between a beetle and a snake: Parasitism of Elaphne Obsoleta by Nicrophorus Pustulatus. Ecoscience 7, 395–397.Google Scholar
  6. Borror, D.J. and White, R.E. (1970) A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.Google Scholar
  7. Chernousova, N.F. (2001) Specific Features of the Dynamics of Murine Rodent Communities under the Effects of Urbanization: 1. Dynamics of Species Composition and Abundance. Russian Journal of Ecology 32, 122–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chust, G., Lek, S., Deharveng, L., Ventura, D., Dcrot, D. and Pretus, J.L. (2000) The effects of the landscape pattern on arthropod assemblages: An analysis of scale-dependence using satellite data. Belgian Journal of Entomology 2, 99–110.Google Scholar
  9. Collins, J.P., Kinzig, A., Grimm, N.B., Fagan, W.F., Hope, D., Wu, J. and Borer, E.T. (2000) A New Urban Ecology. American Scientist 88, 416–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coyle, D.R. and Larsen, K.J. (1998) Burying beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of northeastern Iowa: A comparison of baits for sampling. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science 105, 161–164.Google Scholar
  11. Didham, R.K., Ghazoul, J., Stork, N.E. and Davis, A.J. (1996) Insects in fragmented forests: A functional approach. TREE 11, 255–260.Google Scholar
  12. Dreistadt, S.H., Dahlsten, D.L. and Frankie, G.W. (1990) Urban forests and insect ecology. BioScience 40, 192–198.Google Scholar
  13. Fisher, B.L. (1998) Insect behavior and ecology in conservation: Preserving functional species interactions. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 91, 155–158.Google Scholar
  14. Forman, R.T.T. (1983) An ecology of the landscape. BioScience 33, 535.Google Scholar
  15. Gering, J.C. and Blair, R.B. (1999) Predation on artificial bird nests along an urban gradient: Predatory risk or relaxation in urban environments? Ecography 22, 532–541.Google Scholar
  16. Gibbs, J.P. and Faaborg, J. (1990) Estimating the viability of ovenbird and Kentucky warbler populations in forest fragments. Conservation Biology 4, 193–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibbs, J.P. and Stanton, E.J. (2001) Habitat fragmentation and arthropod community change: Burying beetles, phoretic mites and flies. Ecological Applications 11, 79–85.Google Scholar
  18. Gillies, C. and Clout, M. (2003) The prey of domestic cats (Felis Catus) in two suburbs of Auckland City, New Zealand. Journal of the Zoological Society of London 259, 309–315.Google Scholar
  19. Hepinstall, J.A. and Sader, S.A. (1997) Using Bayesian statistics, thematic mapper satellite imagery, and breeding bird survey data to model bird species probability of occurrence in Maine. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 63, 1231–1237.Google Scholar
  20. Holloway, A.K. and Schnell, G.D. (1997) Relationship between numbers of the endangered American burying beetle Nicrophorus Americanus olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae) and available food resources. Biological Conservation 81, 145–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Homer, C.G., Huang, C., Yang, L., and Wylie, B. (2002) Development of a Circa 2000 Landcover Database for the United States. Washington D.C.: Proceedings of the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Annual Conference, April, 2002.Google Scholar
  22. Ingham, D.S. and Samways, M.J. (1996) Application of fragmentation and variegation models to epigaeic invertebrates in South Africa. Conservation Biology 10, 1353–1358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Klein, B.C. (1989) Effects of forest fragmentation on dung and burying beetle communities in central Amazonia. Ecology 70, 1715–1725.Google Scholar
  24. Kozlov, M.V. (1996) Patterns of forest insect distribution within a large city: Microlepidoptera in St. Peterburg, Russia. Journal of Biogeography 23, 95–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lomolino, M.V., Creighton, J.C., Schnell, G.D. and Certain, D.L. (1995) Ecology and conservation of the endangered American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus Americanus). Conservation Biology 9, 605–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lomolino, M.V. and Creighton, J.C. (1996) Habitat selection, breeding success and conservation of the endangered American burying beetle Nicrophorus Americanus. Biological Conservation 77, 235–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. MacNally, R. (2002) Multiple Regression and inference in ecology and conservation biology: Further comments on identifying important predictor variables. Biodiversity and Conservation 11, 1397–1401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Magurran, A.E. (1988) Ecological Diversity and its Measurement. Princeton, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  29. Marzluff, J.M. and Ewing, K. (2001) Restoration of fragmented landscapes for the conservation of birds: A general framework and specific recommendations for urbanizing landscapes. Restoration Ecology 9, 280–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McDonnell, M.J. and Pickett, S.T.A. (1990) Ecosystem structure and function along urban-rural gradients: An unexploited opportunity for ecology. Ecology 71, 1232–1237.Google Scholar
  31. Merrick, M.J. (1998) Correlating rodent diversity and density with burying beetle population size and reproductive behavior. Proceedings—The Nebraska Academy of Sciences and affiliated societies 108, 72.Google Scholar
  32. Mills, G.S., Dunning, Jr. J.B. and Bates, J.M. (1989) Effects of urbanization on breeding bird community structure in southwestern desert habitats. The Condor 91, 416–428.Google Scholar
  33. Mooney, HA, Cushman, J.H., Medina, E., Sala, O.E. and Schulze, E.-D. 1996. What we have learned about the ecosystem functioning of biodiversity. In Functional Roles of Biodiversity: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England.Google Scholar
  34. Nilon, C.H. and Pais, R.C. (1997) Terrestrial vertebrates in urban ecosystems: Developing hypotheses for the Gwynns Falls Watershed in Baltimore, Maryland. Urban Ecosystems 1, 247–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nowak, D.J. and Dwyer, J.F. (2000) Understanding the benefits and costs of urban forest ecosystems. In Handbook of Urban and Community Forestry in the Northeast. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.Google Scholar
  36. Otronen, M. (1988) The effect of body size on the outcome of fights in burying beetles (Nicrophorus). Annals of Zoology Fennici 25, 191–201.Google Scholar
  37. Robinson S.K. and Wilcove, D.S. (1994) Forest fragmentation in the temperate zone and its effects on migratory songbirds. Bird Conservation International 4, 233–249.Google Scholar
  38. Safryn, S.A. and Scott, M.P. (2000). Sizing up the competition: Do burying beetles weigh or measure their opponents? Journal of Insect Behavior 13, 291–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. SAS Institute, Inc. (2002) SAS (Statistical Analysis System) for Windows, Version 9.00. Cary (NC).Google Scholar
  40. Saunders, D.A., Hobbs, R.J. and Margules, C.R. (1991) Biological consequences of ecosystem fragmentation: A review. Conservation Biology 5, 18–32.Google Scholar
  41. Scott, M.P. (1998) The ecology and behavior of burying beetles. Annual Review of Entomology 43, 595–618.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Shubeck, P.P. (1984) An inexpensive burying beetle trap (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Entomological News 95, 63–64.Google Scholar
  43. Shubeck, P.P. and Blank, D.L. (1982) Burying beetle attraction to buried fetal pig carrion (Coleoptera: Silphidae). The Coleopterist’s Bulletin 36, 240–245.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, R.J. and Merrick, M.J. (2001) Resource availability and population dynamics of Nicrophorus Investigator, an obligate carrion breeder. Ecological Entomology 26, 173–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Suzuki, S. (1999) Does carrion-burial by Nicrophorus Vespilloides (Silphidae: Coleoptera) prevent discovery by other burying beetles? Entomological Science 2, 205–208.Google Scholar
  46. Suzuki, S. (2000). Carrion burial by Nicrophorus Vespilloides (Coleoptera: Silphidae) prevents fly infestation. Entomological Science 3, 269–272.Google Scholar
  47. Tilghman, N. (1987) Characteristics of urban woodlands affecting breeding bird diversity and abundance. Landscape and Urban Planning 14, 481–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tilman, D. (2000) Causes, consequences and ethics of biodiversity. Nature 405, 208–211.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Trumbo, S.T. (1990) Reproductive success, phenology, and biogeography of burying beetles (Silphidae, Nicrophorus). The American Midland Naturalist 124, 1–11.Google Scholar
  50. Trumbo, S.T. and Eggert, A.K. (1994) Beyond monogamy: Territory quality influences sexual advertisement in male burying beetles. Animal Behavior 48, 1043–1047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Trumbo, S.T. and Bloch, P.L. (2000) Habitat fragmentation and burying beetle abundance and success. Journal of Insect Conservation 4, 245–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Trumbo, S.T. and Bloch, P.L. (2002) Competition between Nicrophorus Orbicollis and N. Defodiens: Resource locating efficiency and temporal partitioning. Northeastern Naturalist 9, 13–26.Google Scholar
  53. United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). (2002) NLCD Classification Scheme Definitions. Available from: via the INTERNET. Accessed 2003 April 9.
  54. Wilson, D.S. (1983) The effect of population structure on the evolution of mutualism: A field test involving burying beetles and their phoretic mites. American Naturalist 121, 851–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilson, D.S., Knollenberg, W.G. and Fudge, J. (1984) Species packing and temperature dependent competition among burying beetles (Silphidae, Nicrophorus). Ecological Entomology 9, 205–216.Google Scholar
  56. Xu, H. and Suzuki, N. (2001). Effects of carcass size and parental feeding on reproductive success of the burying beetle Nicrophorus Quadripunctatus (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Entomological Science 4, 217–222.Google Scholar
  57. Zar, J.H. (1984) Biostatistical Analysis, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  58. Zipperer, W.C., Sisinni, S.M., Pouyat, R.V. and Foresman, T.W. (1997) Urban tree cover: An ecological perspective. Urban Ecosystems 1, 229–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of New York College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations