Guest Post by Troi Perkins (@theTroi)
Over the past decade, citizen science has come to the forefront of environmental conservation and education. There are many tools in citizen science that brings people together, but none can boast the far-reaching effects that BioBlitzes have. A “BioBlitz” is an event where groups of scientists, academic professionals, and volunteers come together to a designated area at a specific time over a continuous time period to conduct a thorough biological survey.
The first BioBlitz event was held in 1996 at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C.. In 2007, they began increasing in popularity thanks to the National Geographic Society and the US National Park Service teaming up to hold annual BioBlitz events in different National Parks. Bioblitzes have occurred in almost every state of the United States of America. Plus, they are not limited to land-based surveys: In 2010, Biscayne National Park held the first U.S. Marine BioBlitz with over 2,5000 people in attendance. BioBlitz events have even invaded social media and pop culture platforms thanks to John Griffith, a member of the California National Park Service, who founded the official BioBlitz Dance that has spawned numerous videos by national park service employees, volunteers, and general public members over the years.
BioBlitz events are not confined to the US: there are cities across the globe who are in a friendly competition against each other for the most species observations recorded in a multi-city synchronous event known as the City Nature Challenge. While the City Nature Challenge event started off as a competition between the Californian cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, it now has spread internationally with 224 cities across the globe participating in the last 2020 City Nature Challenge.
BioBlitzes also promote direct public interactions with scientific professionals and help raise environmental awareness of conservation issues. The public participation aspect of BioBlitzes lead to transparent dialogue between scientists and the public as BioBlitz participants contribute directly to data collection and talk with scientists about how data is used. The send of contributing data to a scientific project also increases the notion of being a steward of the area the BioBlitz is held at. Bioblitzes serve to increase environmental awareness among participants through public engagements of local community members.
Despite the growth and popularity of BioBlitzes, there is not a universal standard protocol for BioBlitzes. Some BioBlitzes use the app iNaturalist to gather and store observation records. Others rely on participants filling out hard copy species checklists that the organizer’s staff transcribe into digital files. Scientific review of BioBlitz data is further exacerbated by what country and organization is conducting a BioBlitz as some observation recording programs may not be available in every country.
BioBlitz events produce a remarkable amount of observations, but scientists and wildlife researchers are still figuring out suitable uses of the data. Academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and federal agencies are part of the range of entities that have hosted BioBlitz events. Often the organization conducting the BioBlitz has a set motive for doing so and has plans on how to use the data from their own event: typically for species occurrence records or for meeting public engagement goals. Scientists outside the BioBlitz event face larger challenges with using BioBlitz data. Since there is not a universal standardized BioBlitz protocol, results from different events, or even from different years, are hard to compare. Moreover, not all BioBlitz observation results include variables scientists need for their research like the exact location of the observation, who observed it, how the person observed it, or even how the observation was verified. Still researchers are finding BioBlitz events to be helpful in creating a “snapshot” of species presented at a particular location in time and can help monitor the spread of invasive/non-native species. There are numerous examples (such as here and here and here) of BioBlitz events providing new records of species in an area with some species never before seen in the location and others that have been considered extant or “lost” over time.
On November 12th at noon EST, @theTroi will be hosting a #CitSciChat discussion on Twitter about the nature of BioBlitz events. Joining the Bioblitz discussion are three environmental conservation experts who will discuss their journeys in citizen science use and the pros and cons of citizen science data in wildlife management.
Chris Goforth, MS @DragonflyWoman2
Head of citizen science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS), Chris’ journey into the world of citizen science was through un
expected circumstances during her graduate studies. She has successfully started and continues to run the largest dragonfly citizen science project that gathers observations of swarming dragonflies earning her the nickname Dragonfly Woman. Chris is currently heading the development and
implementation of citizen programs at the NCMNS and its outdoor classroom, Prairie Ridge. She also leads the City Nature Challenge in Raleigh NC, an annual BioBlitz style event where people from different cities across the globe take pictures of the natural world and upload them to an app called iNaturalist for scientists to use.
Summer LaRose, MS @sumdawg
Summer is a Research Wildlife Biologist at Mizzou School of Natural Resources located in Missouri. She also serves as the Deaton Scholars Program Director at the Deaton Institute. Her experience in citizen science and wildlife management covers various species and conservation concerns from the studying of northern flying squirrels to tayra and spotted skunks. Her journey in citizen science started while working as an intern at the Biodiversity Lab located in the NCMNS where she helped review identifications of camera traps in eMammal.
Julia Pupko @VTEcostudies
As the Community Science Outreach Naturalist for Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Julia manages their citizen science projects like Vermont Lady Beetle Atlas while also managing the Vermont chapter for eButterfly and eBird. She is also actively teaching Vermont residents on how to use iNaturalist to upload their observations of the natural world. She maintains a strong connection to community-based conservation initiatives and has spent several years focusing on the intersectionality between culture and the environment. She is actively involved with facilitating reforestation, education, and healthcare reformation in Haiti through the Vermont Haiti Project.
These guest panelists will be addressing key issues relating to BioBlitz events including what the definition of a BioBlitz is, data validity of BioBlitz observations, logistical concerns of BioBlitz organization, and the future use of BioBlitzes in environmental conservation.
Be sure to tune into the #CitSciChat on Thursday, November 12th from Noon – 1:00 PM (EST) to chat with environmental citizen science professionals and explore the world of BioBlitzes.