Invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses – Author Interview
Mary Jane Epps – postdoctoral researcher in the Dunn Lab – explores the ecology of insect communities associated with human homes. She is the lead author of “Too big to be noticed: Cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses”, which we published today. Her work shows that non-native camel cricket species have spread into homes across the eastern United States. “The good news is that camel crickets don’t bite or pose any kind of threat to humans”, she says.
We were interested in hearing more about these crickets, so we invited Mary Jane to comment on her research and her experience publishing with us.
PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?
MJE: All of our data were generated with the help of citizen scientists, people who were just interested in learning more about the life around them. Scientists often go to far-off places to do their research, but at the same time we know very little about the life right under our noses. In the case of camel crickets, some of these insects have been long known to inhabit our homes, but we knew relatively little about their biology, especially in these habitats.
With help from the public we were able to sample the crickets living in a wide distribution of human residences. First, we sent out a series of surveys asking people across the country whether or not they had observed camel crickets in their homes, and if they had, to send us pictures or specimens that we could use to identify them. What was our surprise when the vast majority of camel crickets living in homes turned out to be an Asian species known as the greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora) that up to now was mainly known from commercial greenhouses, and not thought to be particularly common. Instead of the better-known native species, the greenhouse camel cricket appears to be far more common in homes, where it can become extremely abundant.
Contributions from participating citizen scientists showed that the greenhouse camel cricket has a broad distribution across at least the eastern half of the US, though it is still unclear whether the cricket has moved west of Colorado. We also conducted a supplemental trapping study in urban yards of volunteers in Raleigh, NC, showing that the greenhouse camel cricket is also present in yards outside, though there is some evidence it may be most abundant close to houses. Interestingly, we also received photographs of what is clearly a second non-native species of Diestrammena from a few residences in the northeastern US—a species living with us in our homes (for who knows how long!) that had never formally been reported in this country.
Photo: Lauren Nichols, YourWildLife.org
PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?
MJE: I was amazed to find how common the greenhouse camel cricket is, a species that had always been thought of as fairly obscure and infrequent. Here was this little-known species hiding in plain sight all around us, sometimes in huge numbers, and scientists had no idea! I was also very excited to discover living in our homes a second species of camel cricket that was previously unknown from this country outside of a few anecdotal reports.
PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?
MJE: I would love for this study (the brunt of which was really done by the public) to inspire people about their ability to make real contributions to science. We still know so little about the world around us, even many of the things that are right under our noses! I think many non-scientists tend to assume that we already know a lot more than we really do about the natural world; but the wonderful, exciting fact is that that world is so vast we’ve really only scratched the surface!
PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?
MJE: I would love to learn more about the relative distributions and abundances of native versus nonnative camel crickets outside the home. Is the greenhouse camel cricket exclusively associated with human-rendered habitats, or can it also hold its own in wilder habitats? Also, we really don’t know the extent to which the nonnative camel crickets are competing with native species, either indoors or in outside habitats; despite its abundance we have no idea if the greenhouse camel cricket poses any conservation threat or if it is just a harmless hitchhiker in our homes.
Photo: Lauren Nichols, YourWildLife.org
PJ: Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?
MJE: Because our study was based almost entirely on citizen-scientist contributions, my collaborators and I felt strongly that we wanted to make the process as transparent as possible to the public.
PJ: What persuaded you to submit to us?
MJE: Because the public made such an important contribution to this research, we felt it was important to publish our work in an open-access journal, and PeerJ seemed like a good fit.
PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?
MJE: Fantastic. Submitting to PeerJ was a very smooth process, with helpful staff and a remarkably quick turnaround at all stages.
PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?
MJE: Smooth, user-friendly, and efficient.
PJ: Many thanks for your time!