By KEVIN NEVERS
For 24 hours, from 12 p.m. Friday to 12 p.m. Saturday, much of the time in
pouring rain, scientists and citizen-scientists converged on the Dunes in a
race to identify as many different species of flora and fauna as possible.
It’s called the Bioblitz, it’s a joint
project of the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Geographic
Society, and this year--the third edition in a 10-year series of annual
events at national parks around the country--ground zero was the incredibly
biodiverse Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU).
Birds, amphibs and reptiles, mammals, fungi, plants, and insects: so how
many species did the Bioblitz finally pinpoint?
It’s actually too early to
tell--scientists will be doing microscope work and consulting taxonomic keys
for weeks to come, to identify some of the obscurer invertebrates, for
example--but as of 2:03 p.m. on Saturday a running tally totaled 939
The Bioblitz worked this way: professional ornithologists, bot-anists,
herpetologists, entomologists, mammalogists, leading groups of volunteers,
swept through the numerous habitats of INDU--its forests, savannas, meadows,
bogs, blowouts, rivers--in search of species in their particular specialty.
Those they recorded on field datasheets, listing the scientific and common
name of the species, the type of habitat, the quantity of the species
observed, and the GPS coordinates of the location where it was observed.
Those datasheets they later submitted to a central clearinghouse and the
species were entered into computerized databases.
Upwards of a 1,000 species in the Dunes. Who knew? In fact, as Bioblitz
project coordinator Carol Seitz of National Geographic Society told the
Chesterton Tribune, the whole point of the Bioblitz is “to educate the
public about national parks in their own backyards,” the so-called urban
parks. “Everyone knows about Yosemite and Yellowstone but we’ve got
wonderful national parks in our own backyards, places to enjoy and learn
from and protect.”
In its first year Bioblitz descended on the Santa Monica Mountain National
Recreation Area, last year it visited Rock Creek National Park in the heart
of Washington, D.C., next year it will blitz Biscayne National Park just
outside of Miami. The series will end, Seitz said, in 2016, on the
bicentennial anniversary of the National Park Service.
But this year 150 registered scientists, leading more than 1,300 volunteers
and supported by 150 more volunteers in logistics positions, came to INDU.
“We’re taking a snapshot in time,” Seitz said. “Hopefully we’ll identify
species new to the park. And that’s exciting. It’s a huge public education
INDU Superintendent Constantine Dillon agreed. “The Bioblitz highlights the
fact that Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is of national significance,” he
said. “It’s easy to forget that it’s a national park. When Congress made it
a national park, it was saying that Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore means
something to the nation, and the Bioblitz highlights that.”
In particular, Dillon said, the Bioblitz gave “the public the opportunity to
interact with the scientists,” and folks really took advantage of that
opportunity. He noted that an owl prowl scheduled for Friday night had to be
canceled because of the rain and lightning but 65 people, undeterred by the
foul weather, showed up anyway and stayed to listen to the professional
ornithologist talk about owls.
On the Ground
At 2:03 an incomplete but running tally of species counted listed the
*27 species of reptiles and amphibians.
*117 species of birds.
*18 species of fish.
*27 species of fungi.
*11 species of mammal.
*525 species of plants.
*214 species of insects.
For botanist Noel Pavlovic of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lake Michigan
Ecological Station, headquartered at INDU, the Bioblitz was a chance “to see
some rare plants in flower that we haven’t seen in awhile,” including the
state-endangered Nodding Trillium, at such sites as Pinhook Bog.
“I’m excited to find out if anyone has found any species of vascular plants”--ferns,
conifers, flowering plants--new to the park,” Pavlovic
said. “I do expect that someone’s found species of lichen and moss new to
Meanwhile, urban forester and former Chesterton Town Council members Gina
Darnell, R-5th, led three different groups to count species of trees, one in
the area of Chellberg Farm, another on the Ly-co-ki-we Trail, and the third
through Indiana Dunes State Park. Each group averaged 35 species, she said,
“and we could have gotten more but we stopped for teaching moments. It was
“The volunteers were really troopers,” Darnell added. “Nine out of 10 in one
group showed up in the pouring down rain.”
Coming from Chicago were ecologist Tim Wootton of the University of Chicago
and volunteer Rebecca Blazer, who on Saturday afternoon were endeavoring to
identify a species of minnow found in a side stream of the Little Calumet
River near the Bailly Homestead.
Blazer--who works for the Cook County, Ill., non-profit Friends of the
Parks--participated in three different groups, one counting birds at the
Inland Marsh, a second counting fish and aquatic invertebrates at the Bailly
Homestead, and the last counting amphibians, also at the Bailly Homestead.
“Part of the fun is just being outside the office and seeing so many
different species,” Blazer said. “The biodiversity is so rich.”
Folks who didn’t participate in the
actual field work could still find plenty to do at the Bioblitz headquarters
at West Beach. There were a dozens of booths manned by representatives of
local and regional environmental organizations--including the USGS, the
Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, Save the Dunes Conservation Fund, and the
Shirley Heinze Land Trust--with games for kids and lots of displays and
“We’re going to try to have something like this every year,” Dillon said.
“Not on this scale but we’re going to continue to find ways for the public
to connect with science and learn more about the park and the environment
they live in.”
As part of that effort, Dillon said, INDU has created the Park Neighbors
program, “a way for people who live near and around the park to become
connected to it, a way for folks to learn how to become involved in the
park, to get information about it, to discover how they decisions they may
affect the park.”