The importance of BioBlitzes for science and how you can join one today!

All around the world, citizens and researchers are coming together to explore, discover, and learn about biodiversity in their local parks and nature reserves. In these exciting day-long events, new species are discovered, undocumented species are found, and families get to enjoy the outside together. Coined BioBlitzes, these intensive sampling efforts (typically 24 hours) attempt to document all the organisms in one location. Started in 1996 at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C., teams of citizens led by researchers and experts search a location trying to identify as many plants, animals, fungi, etc., that they can. These events allows scientists to teach the public how to identify organisms, fun facts about nature, and the importance of biodiversity. And it’s a great chance for families to get outside and explore together!

BioBlitzes are great ways for citizens to learn about nature from researchers and nature guides. Photo credit UF IFAS (CC) BioBlitzes are great ways for citizens to learn about nature from researchers and nature guides. Photo credit UF IFAS (CC)

Why are BioBlitzes important

BioBlitzes are important because they help scientists engage the public, help the public learn more about the natural world, and help add to understanding of local biodiversity. Intensive efforts of these kinds are critically important for finding rare or undocumented species. As always, more eyes equals more species! Over a 10 year period, the National Park Service ran BioBlitzes in nearly 150 of their parks. They managed to tally more than 22,000 species, including innumerable newly documented records. BioBlitzes add to knowledge of species occurrence, especially rare or hard to find species. This is partially because BioBlitzes typically occur at locations in or near cities to increase public participation. These areas also tend to be under-sampled by scientists and thus in need of thorough sampling. Many people are surprised to learn that urban parks can be as rich in biodiversity than their rural counterparts, this is due to the congregating nature of organisms in these urban habitat holdovers. Sometimes the only green space in an area is the only place species can gather!

Add to local knowledge

Because many of these urban areas are less studied by scientists, there are unique opportunities to add to local information about species occurrences in the parks. During Rocky Mountain National Parks BioBlitz in 2012, 138 of the 490 species found were previously undocumented in the park. County and State Parks can use these surveys to build a database of interesting, endangered, or invasive species in their park. In turn, these databases act as powerful opportunities to highlight a parks worth for not only public recreation but biological management.

BioBlitzes can be useful for documenting the spread of invasive species throughout an area. Picture credit Simon Picardi (CC) BioBlitzes can be useful for documenting the spread of invasive species throughout an area. Picture credit Simon Picardi (CC)

Public participation

This time sampling is a great way for citizens to learn from scientists. Rarely do citizens get to explore the outdoor world with a local expert! BioBlitzes encourage the public to come out and talk to scientists. Scientists are happy to help people learn about the plants and animals they see and how to identify them. And besides normal park entrance fees, BioBlitzes are generally free to the public. This makes them a great way to get outside with your family!

How can you participate

Finding a BioBlitz near you is easy thanks to scistarter.com. This website collects links for projects that citizens can participate in. Just go to their project finder page, search ‘BioBlitz’ and enter the location you’re interested in (city, county, state, etc). Now go find one and get exploring!

Matt

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