For eclogo Raul Costa Pereira, from Unicamp, calling So Paulo a rock jungle is not just an expression. Used to doing fieldwork in exuberant ecosystems such as the Pantanal, Pereira is getting ready to explore the biodiversity that hides in São Paulo houses inside a flower vase, in the corner of the room or in the cracks of a tile.
We usually use binoculars and field pants to study ecological relations. I want to see what it is possible to do in pajamas and socks indoors, the researcher joked in a conversation with Folha.
The idea of receiving one investment of R$ 570 thousand by the Serrapilheira Institute, a private non-profit organization that finances Brazilian scientists with innovative projects. Although there are already some surveys on the fauna of birds and other larger animals that can be found in parks, squares and other areas of Brazilian metropolises, the eclogue’s work has a little different objectives: to find tiny shapes, but still very important, of biodiversity.
Let’s look more at the micro, basically at the arthropods, he explains, referring to the most diverse group of invertebrates, which includes ants, spiders, beetles, spiders and a multitude of others creatures. The micro of the analysis also includes the spatial delimitation: Pereira wants to investigate how the habits of each residence influence the presence of different species in it.
I have an interest in what can be called the ecology of individuals, he tells. We have a tendency to put several individuals of the same species, such as a type of fish or bird, in the same box. But when we look at us humans, individuality is wide open, and I think it is possible to know how this reverberates and becomes a driving force for the diversity of these microecosystems that are naturally dependent on us.
It is possible to think, for example, of the interior of a house as a habitat that houses a miniature trophic chain, including small herbivores, such as certain ants, and predators (spiders that feed on them, say), and so on. Details such as the presence of plants, small areas with flowerbeds or lawns, the type of floor in the house, lighting, ventilation etc. they are capable of influencing which species form these chains.
But another important variable is the habits of humans in each house, he points out. Will we have the same species in the house of those who are vegans, those who only eat processed food and those who make practically all the meals outside the home? As we are the key species of these environments, all this will make a difference.
Many of our animals that the researcher intends to study are difficult to see, either because of their size or because of the habit of frequenting little corners accessible to human hands and eyes. To get around this detection problem, the project will adopt environmental genomics techniques. This means that even the dust accumulated in a carpet can undergo a DNA analysis capable of capturing the species that have passed through there, even if larger and more visible remains of them have already disappeared.
Another important tool will be stable isotopes are variants of atoms such as carbon, which appear in all organic molecules, which help to estimate the origin of those that a particular animal consumes. The idea is to investigate, for example, what happened in places where invertebrates depended on the constant presence of food discarded by humans to eat until they ran out of self-service with the arrival of social distance caused by the Covid pandemic-19. this is the case of Unicamp itself, where the researcher usually works.
In addition, the idea is to sample São Paulo houses that take into account the city’s regional and socioeconomic diversities. and concrete, periphery and center, and so on. It will be possible to cross this geographical data with the surveys on arthropods to understand how one thing influences the other.
Someone more skeptical could think that hardly anything more interesting than simple ants and cockroaches will appear in a survey like that. Pereira disagrees. The first step is to explore, throw the net and what to see, he compares, using a fisherman analogy. I think there can be good and bad surprises, including the presence of some species that, in theory, would only appear in well-preserved places.