The aim of the study, initiated by researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Colorado Boulder, is to produce an “atlas” aiming to capture the range and diversity.
To collect the data the researchers asked for volunteer citizen scientists from 700 homes across 48 states. The volunteers were sent swab kits and asked to collect dust samples from the top of a doorway in their home. The researchers point out that the scale of the study would have been impossible without the help and support of citizen scientists.
The collected dust was subject to DNA analysis with the aim of identifying arthropods present down to at least the genus level. An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages. The outcome of the exercise was the identification of over 600 different groups of arthropods. This level of diversity from homes was described by the researchers as “incredible.”
Some homes were more diverse than others. Factors which led to greater diversity included whether people had pets like cats and dogs, or whether the home was in a rural area. Diversity did not, however, mean greater abundance, and there were considerable variations with the number of species detected.
One thing that did not seem to affect diversity was climate and no regional climate pattern was apparent from the collected information.
In a research brief, one of the project leads Anne Madden, explains the background to the study: “This work is a significant step toward understanding the ecology of our own homes, with the goal of improving our understanding of how those organisms in our homes may affect our health and quality of life.”
It is also hoped that the information will help those with dust mite allergies by indicating which types of homes are at a greater risk than others for suffers. For example, dust mites can be serious allergens in homes and the team found that they were more often associated with homes in humid regions of the country.
The research has been published in the journal Molecular Ecology. The research is titled “The diversity of arthropods in homes across the United States as determined by environmental DNA analyses.”