Homogenizing an urban habitat mosaic: arthropod diversity declines in New York City parks after Super Storm Sandy

The frequency and intensity of hurricanes are increasing globally, and anthropogenic modifications in cities have created systems that may be particularly vulnerable to their negative effects. Organisms living in cities are exposed to variable levels of chronic environmental stress. However, whether chronic stress ameliorates or exacerbates the negative effects of hurricanes remains an open question. Here, we consider two hypotheses about the simultaneous consequences of acute disturbances from hurricanes and chronic stress from urbanization for the structure of urban arthropod communities. The tipping point hypothesis posits that organisms living in high stress habitats are less resilient than those in low stress habitats because they are living near the limits of their environmental tolerances; while the disturbance tolerance hypothesis posits that high stress habitats host organisms pre-adapted for coping with disturbance, making them more resilient to the effects of storms. We used a before-after-control-impact design in the street medians and city parks of Manhattan (New York City, New York, USA) to compare arthropod communities before and after Super Storm Sandy in sites that were flooded and unflooded during the storm. Our evidence supported the disturbance tolerance hypothesis. Significant compositional differences between street medians and city parks before the storm disappeared after the storm; similarly, unflooded city parks had significantly different arthropod composition while flooded sites were indistinguishable. These differences were driven by reduced occurrences and abundances of arthropods in city parks. Finally, those arthropod groups that were most tolerant to urban stress were also the most tolerant to flooding. Our results suggest that the species that survive in high stress environments are likely to be the ones that thrive in response to acute disturbance. As storms become increasingly common and extreme, this juxtaposition in responses to storm-associated disturbance may lead to diversity loss in cities, potentially leading entire urban landscapes to mirror the reduced diversity of street medians.