A love for insects, plus the impact of Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, formed a unique opportunity for a Rutgers University-Camden researcher whose findings were published this past December in the journal Ecological Applications.

Amy Savage, an assistant professor of biology, believes her work could help others make predictions and conservation decisions in the face of future natural disasters.

In the months before Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, Savage had been studying the diversity of arthropods — such as ants — in New York City parks and street medians.

And after the storm ravaged parts of New Jersey and New York in October 2012, Savage and colleagues went back to the same areas to see how the insect populations had been affected.

"We though that since species living in street medians were under so much stress already, one more disturbance from the storm would potentially be a tipping point — that their populations would crash," Savage said. "Instead, we saw the opposite."

It's that constant exposure to environmental pressures, actually, that prepared species in the street medians to handle the intensity of a storm like Sandy, Savage said.

At the same time, arthropod diversity did decline in the relatively low-stress parks, she noted. Insects less used to the hustle-and-bustle of NYC could not handle Sandy's wet and windy strike.

Savage, a resident of Hammonton, said these data may allow researchers to better understand and plan for diversity changes after extreme weather events. Her team will gather insect samples this summer in Houston, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, to see if findings are consistent.

While a love for insects isn't a prerequisite for becoming a biologist, Savage has a soft spot for six-legged creatures.

"I honestly think that anyone who spends time watching ants can't help but love them and be fascinated by them," Savage said.

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