Bioblitz: Nature Nuts Combine Forces

Saturday, June 11 at 10 a.m., the beginning of another Ontario Bioblitz weekend: exhibitors set up kiosks, registration volunteers cross off names, and signs pinned around the site draw blitzers who are crazy about plants, insects, fish, or lichens—or any in a long list of categories of living things—to more of their own kind.

Dozens of people stand in a loose group.

In their official t-shirts, bioblitz participants (gathering here for the opening ceremonies) are recognizable wherever they’re working in the watershed. Image: Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature

Their goal this year is to count as many species as possible in 10 sites of the Credit River watershed—most managed by Credit Valley Conservation—in just 24 hours.

A map of the Credit River Watershed.

The watershed running from the Orangeville area south to Lake Ontario, via Mississauga. Image: © Ontario BioBlitz 2016

The nature nuts cluster eagerly around maps, interrupting their planning to welcome newcomers. Despite sharing a sign with a horde of 50 botanists interested in flowers, trees and ferns, the four* members of the bryophyte (moss and liverwort) team manage to assemble in kind.

A sign that says "Ontario BioBlitz Plants & Bryophytes".

Signs posted around the bioblitz site help naturalists with various interests find their teams. Image: Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature

Then a kick-off ceremony: a sea of matching t-shirts surveilled by a swarm of camera drones. And then, people scatter.

The bryophyte team, which edged impatiently toward the car during the speeches, bee-lines from Blitz HQ to its first site. Once we’re out of the car and into the trees, our focus turns to the hunt, and everything slows down.

A man kneels in a forest making notes on a paper bag.

Allan Aubin, a bryologist from Simcoe, Ontario, makes notes on a collection bag just minutes after the blitz begins. Image: Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature

People who study moss take a lot of flak for their laborious rate of speed, but when 10 or more species can grow together on a single log, it’s impossible to travel quickly and notice them all (and if you think that we are slow, wait ’til you see the lichenologists).

We’re on a particular mission at the Credit Blitz: certain rare species were recorded in the watershed 60 to 120 years ago, according to specimens in collections such as the National Herbarium of Canada.

Composite: Two herbarium-sheet labels.

Two labels from our herbarium specimens dating from 1892 (top) and 1941 (bottom). Images: Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature

Whether or not those rare species are still around can reveal a lot about how their ecosystems are faring as the landscape changes, and help conservation experts know more about the resources they manage. With this in mind, we’re especially vigilant.

Leanne Wallis, a biologist with Credit Valley Conservation and a member of the bioblitz moss crew, has armed us with historical research (just where would botanists get off the train from Toronto in 1941, anyway?), lists of species known for the area, and a roster of promising sites.

A woman sits on a tree root in a forest.

Biologist Leanne Wallis (Credit Valley Conservation) knows the watershed and its many species inside out! Image: Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature

At noon on Sunday, time’s up! Even at our studious pace, we record over 100 species, and parcel away dozens that we’ll need to examine under the microscope before the list is complete. It’s the most bryophyte species we’ve counted at the Ontario Bioblitz since it started in the Rouge watershed, where it will return in 2017.

People pose in and beside a decorative fountain.

Working together after the main event, the blitz moss team (joined on this occasion by Credit Valley Conservation biologist David d’Entremont) poses by a mossy fountain before parting ways ’til next year. Left to right: Leanne Wallis, Jennifer Doubt, David d’Entremont, Allan Aubin, Linda Ley. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

In fact, the Ontario BioBlitz Program, along with national partners including the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada, plan to launch a national bioblitz network in 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday—including one hosted by your Canadian Museum of Nature. Stay tuned for details!

*In 2013 we had our record of eight. You are invited to join us… if you can take the (glacial) pace!

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2 Responses to Bioblitz: Nature Nuts Combine Forces

  1. Leanne Wallis says:

    Jennifer Doubt –What a pleasure to read your fabulous description of the Ontario Bioblitz of the Credit River watershed. Your passion, knowledge, and work ethic are an inspiration. I am so honoured to have had the chance to show you some of my favorite spots, as we followed the clues from herbarium labels of specimens held at the Canadian Museum of Nature, and sought out the same mosses collected here decades ago by Macoun, Moxley and Cain. Go Team Bryophyte – Small, Mighty and Awesome.

  2. Pingback: New Mural Tells a Thousand Collecting Stories | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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