Hundreds help Auburn scientists catalog local biodiversity during the day-long event.
The Alabama Extension System and Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in cooperation with the College of Science and Mathematics’ Department of Biological Sciences recently hosted a “BioBlitz,” on Saturday, April 23, at the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest located in Auburn.
A bioblitz is a hands-on event where participants have the opportunity to learn about local biodiversity while working alongside scientists to survey plants, birds, fish, insects, and other wildlife in an attempt to record all the living species found within an area during a specified period.
Becky Barlow, an Alabama Extension forestry specialist and coordinator of the bioblitz, said that the event, which was attended by nearly 300 members of the community, was a great opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to interact with the public.
“One cool thing about the event is the public was able to work right beside scientists collecting real data,” said Barlow. “Graduate and undergraduate students took part in the event and even took the lead on some of the topics. This was a great opportunity for them to take things they have learned in the classroom and apply them when interacting with the public.”
Barlow and forestry graduate student, Seth Hunt, had long considered the possibility of a bioblitz at the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest, both for its academic value and as an educational tool for the general public.
Hunt’s impending graduation and the substantial interest from other Auburn scientists across campus indicated the timing was right for the event. Stated Hunt, “It was great to get the level of involvement from professors, graduate, and undergraduate students from multiple schools within the University to help with the BioBlitz.”
“I had great fun helping lead the tree and understory events and I think that the public, students and even myself benefited from the experience. I was genuinely humbled by the turn out and hope to make the bioblitz something that continues to take place,” said Hunt.
During the daylong event, preliminary results indicated the group was able to catalog nearly 200 species, including at least 24 types of trees, 39 plants, 40 birds, 26 insects, 18 types of reptiles and amphibians, 10 fish, 12 aquatic invertebrate, 12 mammals, 10 fungi, two crayfish, and two varieties of butterflies.
School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences wildlife graduate student, Mary Bennett, appreciated the opportunity to interact with other research professionals from Auburn. “We collected a lot of great data for MOT and it was exciting to share in everyone’s enthusiasm for the event.”
Throughout the day hands-on activities were offered for children to learn about Alabama’s rich biodiversity. The Auburn University Museum of Natural History provided “fossil bags” for children to identify prehistoric insects. Other “BioBlitz Junior” activities included creating casts of animal tracks and building bird houses provided by the Home Depot.
The Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve was also on hand to provide live animal encounters of native species of reptiles and amphibians. The “Critter Caravan,” designed to be a traveling educational program offered for schools and private groups, featured such animals as the corn snake, box turtle, and the lesser known, legless lizard.
Jennifer Lolley, outreach administrator of the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, commented, “Anytime you get 300 people out for a first time science event, it is a big success!” Lolley expressed how valuable it is to have a species inventory, particularly for an educational facility; noting that they hoped to have a bioblitz event at the preserve in the spring of 2017.
A final tally of the species found on the property will be available in the coming months. The 2016 BioBlitz was sponsored in part by Home Depot, Publix, Kroger and Sam’s Club.
For more information about BioBlitz, contact Becky Barlow via phone (334) 844-1019 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view more photos, visit the SFWS photo album at Flickr.
About the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest:
Located along Moore’s Mill Road just east of Auburn, Alabama, the Mary Olive Thomas (MOT) Demonstration Forest is a 400 acre forest that is used to show landowners’ forest and wildlife management practices that could be used to enhance the value of their land. Thanks to the generosity of Mary Olive Thomas, this forest has been used by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences (SFWS) since 1977 and was designated as an Alabama Treasure Forest in 1979. In keeping with Ms. Thomas’ wishes, this demonstration forest continues to be managed with the private landowner in mind, demonstrating many different land management techniques.