When most people think of animals living in their lawns, they think of grubs and weevils devouring the roots and stems of their manicured turf, but when Loren B. Byrne, graduate student in the intercollege ecology program at Penn State, thinks about what is under the lawn, he sees much smaller organisms that are beneficial for the soil and lawn.
"Turfgrass lawns are everywhere in urban and suburban landscapes," Byrnes told attendees today (Aug. 7) at the 2003 Ecological Society of America annual meeting. "Little is known about the tiny arthropods that live in and under the grass, but these are some of the most diverse and abundant creatures on Earth. They are essential for decomposition of organic material and for nutrient cycling,"
Byrnes, working with Dr. Mary Ann Bruns, assistant professor of agronomy/soil microbial ecology, and Dr. Ke Chung Kim, professor of entomology, conducted an observational study of the arthropods living in existing lawns in State College, Pa. He sampled the bugs from low-maintenance lawns -- mowed, but with no applications of fertilizers and pesticides and high-maintenance lawns mowed and treated with applications of fertilizers and pesticides from a lawn care company. For comparison to the lawns, he sampled arthropods form unmowed fields in the urban landscape that were not treated with chemicals.
Byrnes identified four examples of each of the three grassy areas. He took 15 soil samples from each of the plots and extracted the arthropods using a standard method and counted them.
The preliminary investigation showed that the number of mites was highest in the high-maintenance lawn and lowest in the reference or control areas.