On October 23rd, 2016 we learned about

Plants and animals love to live in places people associate with death

In a world with ever growing human development, one of the best places for an animal to live is where the dead humans are. Urban areas are difficult for most animals to adapt to, but there are pockets of green space where animals can really get a foothold. These locations aren’t the parks or playgrounds people usually head to to enjoy some time outdoors, since those are the places frequented by people. Animals, on the other hand, are finding things to be much more comfortable living in our graveyards.

Bustling burial grounds

The Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin is 136 years old, which has proven to be plenty of time for some sections to grow a bit unkempt. Opened as a Jewish cemetery, 116,000 people have been buried there, but most of them before World War II. With relatively few visitors in the last 70 years, plants, animals and lichens have been happy to take advantage of the space. Over 600 species of plants and animals were found living there, most of which were otherwise found in more distant forests. The full list included 44 species of birds, 39 beetles, and appropriately, 64 species of spiders and five species of bats.

The Weissensee Cemetery is a bit of an extreme example, but other cemeteries have been shown to offer similar refuge to urban animals. Densely packed graves, also associated with Jewish burial practices that skip large, ornate coffins, are harder to trim and weed, allowing for plant life to get more of a foothold on the space. Korean and Caribbean traditions of bringing food to the grave of a loved one may provide tasty snacks to animals living in the cemetery. Even the gravestones can offer some benefits to animals, as they can provide shade and hiding places to animals like coyotes or foxes during the day.

Abandoned to abundance

Obviously, the key to the biodiversity of cemeteries isn’t the presence of the graves or coffins, but the lack of human intervention after we’ve buried our dead. A similar pattern has been seen in various “ghost towns” around the world where, once people move out, plants and animals are waste no time in taking over. Minefields, chemical weapons factories and fallout zones that once bustled with human activity have all become havens for deer, horses or even just tons of bunnies. From the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to Japan’s Okunoshima Island, places we think of as dead or abandoned can apparently be quite livable.

Source: City Cemetery Is Alive With Shocking Number of Bats, Spiders by Joshua Rapp Learn, National Geographic

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