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Fake caterpillars offer insight into warm city

17 April 2024
Cities are often warmer than rural environments. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will investigate the effect this has on the behaviour of birds and insects. In the coming year researchers will monitor forty trees in the city. ‘With the results, we want to restore the ecological balance.’

The heat in cities is caused by impervious surfaces, such as buildings, sidewalks and parking lots. These surfaces retain heat. The local, warmer microclimate in cities is an ideal laboratory to study the behaviour of animal species as the climate warms. The effect of climate change can be partly compensated by so-called 'green' and 'blue' infrastructure: vegetation and water.

Animal interaction
Environmental geographer Juan Antonio Hernández-Agüero (Institute for Environmental Studies) will investigate how the urban microclimate influences the interaction between animal species. He does this together with Bas Krijnen and Velin Velichkov, master students of Environment and Research Management. The project is supported by a Dobberke Grant and the Ecology Fund from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Artificial caterpillars
The researchers attach artificial caterpillars on forty trees, mainly in Diemen and Amsterdam-Zuid. They determine to what extent the caterpillars are attacked by birds. They also make scans of the leaves in the trees, so that they know to what extent insects eat them. They link this information to the biodiversity of the area in which the tree is located, the green and blue infrastructure, and other factors such as human population density and nocturnal light pollution.

Pest control with natural means
With the results of the project, the researchers can also predict where pests such as the oak processionary have a major impact on vegetation, and in which places they can be controlled with natural means. This can be done, for example, by placing great tit nests in trees where the oak processionary eats a lot of leaves.

Hernández-Agüero: ‘We aim to propose nature-based solutions that aid in restoring ecological balance. Amsterdam serves as an ideal location to test our hypotheses due to its extensive bike connectivity, dense human population, and abundant blue (canals) and green (parks) infrastructure.’ Hernández-Agüero, Krijnen and Velichkov will revisit the trees every month in the coming year.

Contact the VU Press Office