Thousands of wildlife spotters fanned out across 126 U.S. national park units Friday and Saturday in a mammoth BioBlitz held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
For the 24-hour reporting period ending midday Saturday, over a thousand experts studied more than 50,000 observations submitted for review through the iNaturalist app, and identified 6,481 species of plants, animals, and other organisms. Many observations were recorded and submitted by citizen scientists.
As data continue to stream in, the official tally is expected to be substantially higher. Identification of species is also expected to be reported directly by hundreds of professional scientists who made their own field inspections or who led excursions (called BioBlitz inventories) that were joined by teachers, grade school students, and other members of the public taking the opportunity to learn about nature.
In seven national park units in the National Capital Region, 886 species were identified from more than 5,000 observations recorded and submitted through iNaturalist. These numbers will also rise as species identifiers continue to scrutinize the data, and as confirmation of species comes in from sources other than the app.
More than 2,600 grade school students came out to the BioBlitz in the National Capital regional parks, which include the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
It’s Wild on the National Mall
“I think it is fair to say that over the past two days we have discovered that the National Mall is home to more than just monuments and memorials,” said Peggy O’Dell, Deputy Director of Operations for the National Park Service, at the closing ceremony of the BioBlitz in the Mall’s Constitutional Gardens. “A wide variety of diversity of animals and plants depend on this park for their existence, which isn’t the first thing you would think of when you are coming here to visit, is it?”
Highlights of the 2016 National Parks BioBlitz
- The official bird of the District of Columbia, the wood thrush, was observed 11 times. Park officials say this indicates that the forest in Rock Creek Park, where the bird is resident, is healthy.
- Birds most commonly observed in the D.C. area: mallard, American robin, Canada goose, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, blue jay.
- Algae of the genus Rhoicosphenia were observed growing on another species of algae growing on a snail.
- Eastern-tailed blue butterfly identified at at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland), where it is deemed to be quite uncommon.
- Snowberry clearwing (hummingbird moth), a pollinating moth, was found in Manassas National Battlefield Park (Virginia).
- High density of birds was observed in Manassas, making it an important bird area.
- Most frequently observed introduced species in National Capital Region: garlic mustard, European starling.
- “ArchaeoBlitz”, held at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota), found a centuries-old bison tooth (1740s).
- “PollinatorBlitz” was held at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee).
- “LichenBlitz” was held at Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho).
Safe Havens for Native Species
With increasing threats such as climate change and the persistence of invasive species, national parks were critical reserves of biodiversity and safe havens for native species and their habitats, O’Dell said. “Preserving biodiversity from an ant to an alligator, a beetle to a bear, allows us to better understand how the pieces of an ecosystem fit together. And they help us determine long-term changes to our environment.”
White House to Citizens: Grow Your Own Pollinator Park
Bruce Rodan, White House Assistant Director, Environmental Health, Office of Science and Technology Policy, thanked National Geographic and the National Park Service for including pollinator health in the 2016 BioBlitz. Citing the First Lady’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Rodan said there were opportunities for all to help: “Plant pollinator gardens in your own homes,” he said. “Whether you’ve got a window box in your house, a back or a front garden, or acres of land, plant pollinator habitat and then just sit there and watch all these wonderful creatures turn up — and have a zoo in your own backyard, your own little part of the national park system.”
BioBlitz on Steroids
For many parks, this year’s nationwide event was their first BioBlitz; for others, it was their first venture into citizen science, said John Francis, former National Geographic Vice President for Research, Conservation and Exploration. (Francis helped plan and execute 10 annual BioBlitzes in conjunction with the National Park Service.) In all, there were 278 events around the country, including by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau for Land Management, and local sanctuaries, making it a BioBlitz on steroids, he added.
National Geographic President and CEO Gary E. Knell said that one of the key successes of the partnership between the Society and the Park Service had been raising awareness of the BioBlitz concept. “You can see the number of thousands of participants we’ve grown into this year. The partnership has inspired other government entities in the United States and around the world to do their own BioBlitzes and give guidance to nature centers in schools to adopt the concept to better understand biodiversity in their own backyards,” he said.
National Geographic Alliances fired up to do BioBlitzes for years to come: Nat Geo President Gary Knell
National Geographic is also working with entities in South Korea in their own BioBlitz, Knell added. “And our National Geographic Alliances, which are active in all 50 states, are fired up to do BioBlitzes for years to come.”
BioBlitzes in the Next Century of the Park Service
“BioBlitz doesn’t end end here,” O’Dell said. “The partnerships and the BioBlitz movement will only expand as we kick off into the National Park Service’s second century.” In September the National Park Service and Parks Canada will collaborate on an aquatic insect BioBlitz at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Next year, Parks Canada hoped to do its own nationwide BioBlitz for its 150th anniversary.
The 2016 National Parks BioBlitz was the 10th in a series of annual events organized by the National Park Service in partnership with the National Geographic Society in a decade-long run-up to this year’s Park Service Centennial. National Geographic and the Park Service have been partners for that entire century, since the Society helped draft legislation and lobbied Congress to create the Service in 1916.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.