WWOOFing Part 12: Bluebell Island BioBlitz
Another project I am involved with as part of my WWOOFing internship is biodiversity surveying, also known as BioBlitzing. Most easily defined as species inventorying over a short period of time, BioBlitzes typically involve the participation of multiple naturalists and scientists who specialize in different disciplines (such as ornithology, herpetology, mycology, etc.) who go out in a set area to record and catalog occurrence (and sometimes frequency of species). This information is used to determine the presence of species within an area and the conservation value of the place with respect to biodiversity so that fragile habitat may be identified and protected. The promotion of conservation is also accomplished by public participation in the events themselves – which is a key component of the Blitzes; both everyday people and experts work side by side to identify and record species. Although BioBlitzes are intensive field studies they also provide opportunities for informal exchange of information and education of the public.
Jonathan my WWOOF host regularly organizes and participates in formal BioBlitzes independently and in conjunction with National Geographic and is now starting his own BioBlitz Team that will be available to conduct surveys on demand. In preparation for these upcoming events – some of which have already been scheduled – Jonathan and I have started conducting weekly Blitzes of nearby areas not just to catalog species, but to refine our data recording methods real-time in the field as well as post collection. I cannot contribute (at all) with species identification but I am learning how to record our data in the field and am developing procedures to organize all the information and eventually make it available on the internet. I am in the process of creating a blog specifically for the BioBlitz project and will share the link and provide updates on the data organization process when I get it up and running.
Our current procedure is this: In the cataloging process Jonathan makes an identification and photographs the distinguishing features while I record the name and, if a bird, the count. We’re also incorporating geo-location data that I record using a GPS unit now but did not do that for our first Blitz. Once we return home, the information is entered into spreadsheets, which will eventually be compiled into a database, and the photographs are uploaded into public albums on Jonathan’s Flickr account and then tagged with taxonomic information using a biological taxonomy tagger. Once all the photographic evidence and accompanying metadata has been created, the photos and their geo-tagging information will also be available under the event page I create on iNaturalist, a Smithsonian-funded biodiversity information website. As I mentioned, I am also in the process of creating a blog that will contain results from each BioBlitz.
Our first BioBlitz was held a couple weeks ago on Bluebell Island, an approximately 10 acre island located in the Elk River in Franklin County, Tennessee. Bluebell Island is renowned for its spectacular covering of bluebells (of course) and wildflowers in general but is one of the only places to find species such as the White Trout Lily and the Dwarf Trillium. In addition, the island is an important habitat for migratory birds. We spent approximately five hours on the island, documenting over a hundred species and taking over two hundred photographs. Laura and baby Cypress also joined us during the last hour or so too.