BioBlitzing at LBL

Some of the biodiversity available for BioBlitzing fun at LBL: a male ruby-throated hummingbird and a great spangled fritillary feeding on a butterfly milkweed.

The data started appearing right away. Within an hour there were 30 observations. Then 60. Two days later, over 300. The leaderboard suggested one student was ahead of the pack, both in terms of species observed and total number of observations. But many others were closing in, and continue to do so. As I write this, there are 936 observations of 502 species, all collected by 30 students, in less than a month.

The species diversity of our region is amazing when seen through this lens. Swamp cicadas. White-breasted nuthatches. Screech owls. Pinkweed. Blue mistflower. Honey-vine climbing milkweed. Eastern copperhead. Northern slimy salamander. Sphinx moth. Saddleback caterpillar. Kentucky coffee tree. It goes on and on and on, and we have already learned so much about local species from this one activity.

All of this information came from students taking photographs of nature using their phones. They were learning about biodiversity, and we used some of the data as part of a laboratory exercise to learn how species numbers change with the amount of area sampled. Additionally, the entire world now has access to more information about the biodiversity of our region, all because of a simple app and the curiosity, motivation, and to some extent, the competitive juices of my students.

My students were part of a BioBlitz that I set up for my class, which is just a term to describe an event that could be a day, a week, or a few months, that allows people to document and learn more about nature, while providing valuable data to regional resource managers as well as scientists across the globe.  Now there is a BioBlitz made just for you, in case you are not getting enough blitzing from football this fall.

Murray State’s Watershed Studies Institute (WSI) and the Friends of Land Between the Lakes (LBL) are teaming up to host a BioBlitz at Land Between the Lakes from Sept. 19 through Nov. 15, and it is open to everyone, not just students. This citizen science activity invites participants to come to LBL to document sightings of wildlife, plants, fungi, and all other forms of life throughout the fall season. The BioBlitz uses an app called iNaturalist, the same one my students used, which helps compile the photos that everyone uploads from their phones or digital cameras. 

Those data will be useful to help LBL biologists and land managers make more informed conservation and management decisions in the future, and perhaps spark new research opportunities for Murray State students, staff, and faculty members. For example, by repeating the BioBlitz over time, scientists can gain insight on phenology—the changes in timing of things, like fall bird migrations, color change in leaves, or the activity of other species—which can help us understand, and respond to, the impacts of climate change.

All that is needed to participate is a smartphone or digital camera, and a willingness to spend some time in LBL. Participants will take photos of observations such as insects, birds, wildflowers, and more, and upload them to the LBL BioBlitz project page on iNaturalist via the app or website. Participants can search for “LBL BioBlitz” in iNaturalist, or go directly to the page at: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/land-between-the-lakes-bioblitz. The iNaturalist app is a free download, and there is no fee to participate. 

The BioBlitz offers outdoor enthusiasts, students, and home-educating families a COVID-friendly, socially-distanced activity that they can do this fall. Not only is it an opportunity to get outside and learn through exploration, but it is also a chance to contribute to science. For more information or questions about participating, please contact either LBL’s Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@friendsoflbl.org or the Woodlands Nature Station at mwest@friendsoflbl.org.  

When you are thinking about fall activities, and there are many to choose from, consider tightening that backpack strap, grabbing your phone or camera, and joining the BioBlitz. You’ll have fun, you’ll get out of the house and get some exercise, and you’ll be helping LBL managers and university scientists understand our changing world all at the same time. As much as it might be hard for some of us to admit, no football game can do that. Come outside and blitz!

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