Field Notes: Count Everything
For 24 continuous hours last spring, 37 biologists turned Tamarack Nature Center into a laboratory, replete with counting tables, microscopes, laptop computers, and specimens ranging from mushrooms to white-footed mice.
Throughout the day, the biologists fanned out on the landscape, leading groups of adults and children in search of life. The goal: to identify and document every living thing in the 320-acre preserve near White Bear Lake.
At the end, Minnesota's first BioBlitz participants had identified more than 732 unique species-59 species of birds, 14 mammals, two reptiles, eight amphibians, four fish, more than 258 insects and 23 other invertebrates, 300 plants, and 64 mushrooms. But the real triumph was giving participants a chance to learn about the variety of life in a typical urban park, says John Moriarty, natural resources manager with Ramsey County Parks and organizer of the event.
BioBlitzes-part rapid biology survey and part nature festival-have become regular events around the country since the first one took place in 1996 in Washington, D.C. Another BioBlitz will take place June 10-11 at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. It's sponsored by the refuge, University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History, DNR Nongame Wildlife Program, and Friends of the Minnesota Valley. Visit www.bellmuseum.org/bioblitz or call 952-858-0724.
Excitement around the event, Moriarty says, builds as the fall of darkness gets entomologists buzzing. Then their lighted insect traps begin capturing swarms of moths, beetles, and other flying creatures that are attracted to light.
Soon after, mammalogists with handheld sonar equipment begin tracking the high-frequency sounds of bats in search of insects. The equipment detects and records the sounds, which can be displayed on a laptop computer and modified so humans can hear them.
Each of Minnesota's seven species of bats can be identified by their unique sound, according to Gerda Nordquist, mammalogist with the DNR Minnesota County Biological Survey. At last year's BioBlitz, Nordquist identified little brown, big brown, silver-haired, and hoary bats.
As night turns back to day, the BioBlitz continues. Ornithologists lead bird walks, ichthyologists net and live-trap fish, and herpetologists collect turtles, salamanders, and snakes. All are released after they are identified.
Organizers readily admit they can't record everything in one day. Not all migratory bird species are present, and some species can't be counted because the appropriate specialists aren't available to identify them. Still, information collected at BioBlitz events does shed light on a region's biological community. At last year's event, for example, mycologists (mushroom specialists) from the University of Minnesota identified 28 mushroom species that had never before been documented in Ramsey County.
This year organizers hope to have twice as many biologists and document at least 1,000 species. One of the highest totals for a BioBlitz was 2,519, recorded in 2001 at an event in Danbury, Connecticut.
"Ramsey County is the back yard for many of the state's major universities and natural resource agencies," Moriarty says. "So the BioBlitz is a nice opportunity for biologists to go see what's in their own back yard."