Suburbanization is the outward movement or expansion of development away from the main part of a city into previously uninhabited areas, including farmland or wooded (forest) areas. It is the result of people wanting to escape the city confines by living several miles (or more) away. The construction of housing developments and shopping malls (strip malls) continues to increase due to a high demand for rural-type living. However, encroaching into uninhabited areas puts humans into direct competition with nature. To survive, insects and wildlife compete for food and space. As suburban sprawl encroaches into areas previously occupied by insects and wildlife, it may lead to increased calls to pest-control operators and lawn-care professionals by homeowners living in suburban environments.
New housing developments commonly have pest problems due to the installation of trees, shrubs, flowers, and turfgrass, which provide an abundance of food for many insects and wildlife. Some common insect pests include ants, termites, wasps, wood-boring insects, and mosquitoes. Wildlife pests include skunks, raccoons, and deer.
A combination of insects and wildlife can lead to problems for the homeowner. For example, many new housing developments have turfgrass that is watered regularly, providing an ideal environment for Japanese beetles to lay eggs. The larvae (grubs) that hatch become a food source for skunks and raccoons, which destroy the lawn while looking for the tasty morsels. Then the homeowner wants to know what can be done to prevent the problem.
Landscapes containing a variety of plant material (especially trees, shrubs, or flowers in the rose family) may experience more problems with deer because easily accessible food is abundant.
Building wood homes in previously wooded areas where termites or ants may have been provides abundant food for these two insects. Termites feed on the wood, and ants enter homes looking for food or nesting sites, depending on the species.
Suburbanization may also create plant stress and influence natural control from predators and parasitoids. For example, construction damage (mainly digging, which injures the root system) places undue stress on preexisting trees or shrubs that are to be saved and used in the landscape. This stress increases susceptibility to wood-boring insects.
Shopping malls generally locate trees, shrubs, and ground covers near buildings or in parking lot islands. These plants are surrounded by concrete or asphalt, which absorbs and radiates heat, creating a microhabitat that may create stress. This increases susceptibility to insect pests, including scales, aphids, and spider mites. Also, these microhabitats, or islands, may be inhospitable to natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) due to temperature, dust, or automobile exhaust; and the plants may be so isolated that natural enemies cannot locate the pests.
Suburbanization will continue to be a dominant factor as cities expand. However, it is important to understand that just because we inhabit a new area it doesn’t mean we will not have pest problems. We can never eradicate insect pests: They were here first, and many are a vital part of the established ecosystem.