Preserve Monitoring vs. Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

One of the main goals of this blog is to model preserve monitoring: the process of observing, recording and accumulating the ongoing natural history of a place (here, Mayslake Forest Preserve), over an extended period of time. One product of this process is a list of the species that use this preserve as a year round residence, or as a seasonal stopping place. Biodiversity is a term for the variety of life forms found in such a place. There are other ways to measure biodiversity, so one might ask, how does preserve monitoring stack up? Today I want to take a look at how the species counts I have accumulated for 3 preserves compare to some examples from another method, the bioblitz. In an earlier post I referred to an example of a bioblitz that occurred a couple years ago at the Indiana dunes.

The Indiana dunes bioblitz took place on a rainy spring weekend.

The bioblitz has the advantage of bringing in scientists who specialize in various groups of organisms, along with numbers of enthusiastic volunteers to help find the plants, animals and other life forms. There are disadvantages as well, centering around the brief duration of the bioblitz. Only organisms readily found and identified on that particular weekend will be included in the species count. If the weather happens to be bad on those days, the count will suffer.

Preserve monitoring spreads its effort over the full year, and can go on for many years. I continue to add species to Mayslake’s list, almost on a daily basis in the spring. An example of a recent addition was the black crappie.

This addition to my preserve list was facilitated by a fisherman.

Prior to my 2.5 years at Mayslake I spent 3 years at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve, and before that, 25 years at Willowbrook Forest Preserve. Those three places occupy 90, 222 and 50 acres, respectively. The respective total species counts to date are 650, 460 and 430. I found 3 bioblitz records on line in roughly the same latitudinal range. All covered much larger areas: Keney, in Connecticut, at 625 acres (1275 species); Kenilworth, in the DC area, at 700 acres (974 species); and Middlefork Savanna, in nearby Lake County, Illinois, at 670 acres (1098 species). While the median bioblitz site is about 7 times larger than the median preserve site, the median total species count is only about 2.5 times larger.

Bioblitz advantages in these species counts fell to groups of organisms where specialist influence is clear: fishes, invertebrates, fungi, protozoa and bacteria. On the other hand, preserve monitoring produced longer species lists for birds and mammals, and plant counts were comparable. These last are groups where the advantage of year-round monitoring provides a big boost.

 Counts from the three preserves are similar to one another except for two groups of organisms: insects and plants. Since I am a common denominator here, these may be real reflections of differences among these preserves. Willowbrook is smallest, but has somewhat greater habitat diversity than Fullersburg. On the other hand, my time at Willowbrook was much longer, giving me a much better opportunity to pick up rare species or species wandering through. My time at Mayslake to this point is a bit shorter than the time I spent at Fullersburg, and Mayslake is less than half Fullersburg’s size. Mayslake’s larger counts probably reflect its greater habitat diversity, augmented by a more advanced restoration effort and somewhat by introduction of certain trees and shrubs during the Peabody and Franciscan periods of Mayslake’s history.

As a method for assembling biodiversity data, preserve monitoring thus is not so much at a disadvantage as one might think when compared to bioblitzes.

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