The results are in, large or small we listed them all!
There was intrigue during the February lecture of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) which began with a contest to correctly identify the total number of species found on their first ever 24-h bioblitz carried out in a special local woodland. As Tineke Kuiper progressed through her presentation, A September to Remember: Bioblitz Secrets of the Bell Woodland Preserve, the audience listened attentively as the tally kept rising with additions from each group of species. Where would it stop? Just how many species had been found?
As Dr. Kuiper, ‘tally master extraordinaire’ for the Bioblitz and former MVFN board member explained, a bioblitz is a 24-h survey of the biodiversity of a property. It is part challenge, part social gathering and most importantly, an educational citizen science event. MVFN’s bioblitz started at 3 pm Saturday, Sept 19 and ended at 3 pm Sunday, Sept 20, 2009 at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Bell Woodland Preserve near Clayton. The property is deciduous forest on Canadian Shield dominated by Sugar Maple forest, with small areas of mixed hardwoods. While the stream crossing the north end of the property was flowing during the bioblitz, wetlands through which the property drains to the east had no standing water. The weather both days was sunny and cool.
100 participants took part in over 20 one-hour expert-led guided walks. During these walks, experienced and novice naturalists poured over the 95 acre property looking and listening for every living thing. On each walk a photographer was present to record the finds. Experts also searched on their own adding to the species seen. Once sightings were verified, sometimes after further examination, they were added to the tally board and bioblitz database. The final species tally and complete species list have just been published in a report posted on MVFN’s website. As Tineke illustrated in her virtual tour, you don’t need to go any farther than your own forested backyard in Lanark County to see spectacular natural beauty and diversity: the vivid greens of the snakeskin liverwort, the impressively large larvae of the imperial moth, incredible floral diversity, wild and wonderful fungi such as the chocolate tube slime and artists’ conk, the elusive but seemingly numerous red eft, and large mammals ever-present but seldom seen face-on.
As Dr. Kuiper guided us through what the experts uncovered during the bioblitz, the species count on the ‘bioblitzometer’ continued to rise. Among the 30 birds, an early one recorded was the barred owl hooting in answer to Joel Byrne during his ‘Calling Creatures of the Night’ guided walk on Saturday night. Then the next day as walks led by Jeff Mills, Mike Runtz and Cliff Bennett began, the first bird to be seen was the hairy woodpecker, spotted by young bioblitz-naturalist Gillian Larkin. The bird population was much reduced except for a few stragglers which had yet to migrate. Some species such as the owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays, ravens and crows would remain during the winter, and it was too early for the winter finches to move in. Surprises for the fall were the scarlet tanager, three warbler species, vireos and flycatchers.
The greatest number of species tallied for a single group was 261 for vascular plants (bringing the blitzometer to 291), but this represented just a fraction of the year-round floral biodiversity. Fall species such as asters, goldenrods, daisies, and ferns were well-represented, while spring ephemerals (e.g. trout lily, dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty) which flower before the trees leaf out and shade them, were not seen. Eight of the species observed are considered rare in Lanark County.
Although fungi were very limited due to the bioblitz being held at the end of a warm dry period, there was no shortage. Where but in the fungal kingdom could you find such interesting names as dead man’s fingers, brick tops, witch’s hat, or chicken of the woods? The 58 fantastic fungi included basidomycetes, ascomycetes, a slime mold, and some fungi imperfecti.
Then there were the 50 marvelous mosses and 16 lovely liverworts which overall were indicative of a woodland in good ecological condition. Along with the fungi the count now soared to 415!
Insects were most abundant in the more open areas with asters and goldenrods. 63 species from 8 orders including beetles, bugs, grasshoppers & crickets, dragonflies & damselflies, butterflies & moths, scorpionflies, flies and bees were found. Due to the cold weather moth traps were not set up at night, so any moths recorded were from larval observations. With considerable adeptness, Chris Schmidt shook saplings and caught the ‘rain’ of Lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) in a large four-cornered umbrella net for later identification.
Seventeen species of invertebrates without 6 legs, (i.e. excluding insects), were found including 4 millipedes, a clam, 4 snails, 2 slugs, an earthworm, a sowbug, 3 spiders and a mite.
Nine amphibian species were seen or heard including the blue-spotted salamander, northern two-lined salamander, red-spotted newt, American toad, gray treefrog, spring peeper, green frog, northern leopard frog and wood frog. Due to the lack of much permanent water, conditions were not suited to turtles and none was found. The two reptiles found were both snakes—a gorgeous smooth greensnake and an eastern gartersnake.
The mammals enumerated were seen, heard or identified by tracks and/or droppings. Combined with the insects, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, the addition of 19 mammals brought the bioblitzometer to 525. One of the first mammals recorded was a coyote which called back in answer to the howls from participants on the Saturday night walk. To inventory small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews, two lines of live traps, bait and track tunnels (containing tracking paper smeared with black stove polish and oil to ‘capture’ foot prints) were set up the day before the bioblitz. The number of footprints showed that small mammals were present at a relatively high density.
Interestingly, despite the majority of the area being upland Sugar Maple forest, one fish species was found in the stream on the property—the Bluntnose Minnow.
At this point the tally reached 526—the total number of all species seen in the 24-hr period and it was time to identify the contest winner. Howard Robinson, who guessed 518 (just 8 species short) was closest to this number and won a copy of Earth, Water, Fire: An ecological profile of Lanark County by Paul Keddy.
The bioblitz was an ambitious undertaking and Tineke Kuiper thanked all those involved for their enthusiasm as well as the experts for their vital role in the event. To view a copy of the entire bioblitz report prepared by MVFN, listing all species identified and filled with gorgeous photographs, please visit MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.