Chesterton Tribune

Bioblitz comes to Indiana Dunes

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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 species.

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 opportunity.”

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 following:

*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 the park.”

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 fun.”

“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 exhibits.

“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.”


Posted 5/18/2009