Bioblitz at Rocky Mountain National Park
What is a Bioblitz?
A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. National Geographic is helping conduct a BioBlitz in a different national park each year during the decade leading up to the U.S. National Park Service Centennial in 2016.
The goals of the bioblitz include:
- Discovering, counting, mapping, and learning about the living creatures in the park;
- Providing scientists and the public an opportunity to do fieldwork together;
- Adding to the park's official species list;
- Highlighting the importance of protecting the biodiversity of these extraordinary places and beyond.
The role for UNC Biology in the RMNP Bioblitz
The research staff at Rocky Mountain National Park invited UNC faculty and students to join their efforts to add a more science-based inquiry to this year's bioblitz, essentially focusing bioblitz activities on specific ecosystems. Our faculty focused on the herbivore exclosures to preserve aspen stands that were set up in the 1960s and in 2009. Data were taken inside and outside exclosures to look for differences in a variety of taxa and represented one of the Discovery Sites the public could sign up to participate in data collection.
Six faculty members and their willing and helpful students (12 total students) led mini discovery data-collecting groups on mammals (Rick Adams and Steve Mackessey), birds (Lauryn Benedict and Audubon Society colleague Allison Holloran), aquatic macroinvertabrates (Ginger Fisher), and plants (Mit McGlaughlin and Scott Franklin).
In addition, UNC developed a booth at the Estes Park Fairgrounds (a variety of family activities and information booths) that showcased data previously collected on the sites (including that of the General Ecology summer class in June), the various field techniques and equipment used to collect such data, multiple pictures from the motion-activated cameras and time-lapse cameras set up at various exclosures, and on Saturday live native snakes (a major hit with the kids).
Outcomes of the RMNP Bioblitz
The two-day BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival attracted more than 5,000 participants, including 2,000 school children from Estes Park and the Front Range. The buzz after the event was that this was the best NGS/NPS BioBlitz to date, and that everyone left BioBlitz 2012 on a Rocky Mountain high. Based on the efforts of UNC faculty and students, as well as the thousands of other participants, a final tally of 489 species were presented at the closing ceremony that included 89 species of birds, 12 mammals, 1 fish, 1 reptile, 289 plants, 12 fungi, 78 insects, and 7 other invertebrates.
While the count will undoubtedly grow as analyses continue, this year's BioBlitz spanned an enormous range of biological variation, from the first ever recorded BioBlitz moose to two species of tardigrade. The BioBlitz also confirmed the presence of the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) and the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) in RMNP.