by Carl Strang

The dominant story line of this blog has been my discovery, bit by bit, of the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois. I hope it is clear that this is a dynamic story, with drama, comedy, and above all, daily change. As often as I go out, though, I am getting only a snapshot. As the months and years pass my understanding will continue to grow. I hope also that you are inspired to look anew at your own favorite outdoor places.

Last Friday I took the opportunity to check out a different but equally legitimate approach to understanding a place. I visited the Bioblitz camp at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Bioblitz 1b

A bioblitz in its original form is an assembly of scientists who compile a list of all the species they can find in some defined area during a 24-hour period. Students and volunteers support the scientists and participate in data collection. The event is organized to maximize public education, with biodiversity (life’s variety) the central concept.

Bioblitz 8b

The advantages of this approach are the technical expertise of the recruited scientists, the assembly of a significant body of data (with the possibility that species new to the target area and even new to science may be discovered), and the spectacle of the event. But there are disadvantages and limitations, too. The main help I could have offered would have been with singing insects, but that would only be effective if the bioblitz had been scheduled in late summer or early autumn. Many other groups of insects likewise have not appeared or matured, yet. On the other hand, a late summer date would have missed many species whose appearance is limited to spring. Another disadvantage in this case was the weather.

Bioblitz 5b

The kickoff was noon on Friday. Rain poured all day. I visited in the early afternoon, when busloads of schoolchildren still filled the headquarters area. They enjoyed splashing in puddles, and gleefully filled their water bottles from the puddles. Though they no doubt were cautioned not to drink that water, I think the concrete connection between the concepts of rain and drinking water made for good education.

Bioblitz 3b

Of course, the species tally had not really begun that early in the game. A news article soon after the 24 hours ended mentioned that many specimens remained to be identified, but 939 species had been named to that point, with vascular plants leading the way at 525. The insect count of 214 is sure to grow by a lot in coming days. Vertebrate counts were 11 mammals, 117 birds, 27 reptiles and amphibians, and 18 fish. Fungi were represented by 27 species.

Despite the rain, spirits were high on Friday. This approach can be modified in many ways. The area of study could be much smaller, say, a yard, or a schoolyard, or a park. There could be a series of seasonal bioblitzes, or the list of species could be accumulated as they are found through the year. Most conspicuous species are common enough to be found in field guides or through Internet resources, so specialist scientists are not needed for a school study. Biodiversity is an important concept, and worth exploring through first hand experience.

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