BioBlitz: A fun and fascinating day of discovery

Eight hours plus 125 people plus 312 species equals one awesome BioBlitz!

Page Park was the site of the Rock River Valley’s first-ever BioBlitz Saturday, May 19. The well-attended event involved about 100 local people who teamed with professional biologists to search for and identify a variety of plants and animals.

Additionally, around 50 people dropped in to observe the science teams at work, view natural science exhibits, and partake in family nature activities. Perfect weather and a festive atmosphere at BioBlitz Central, including refreshments and prizes, enticed disc golfers and picnicking families to join in the BioBlitz activities.

More than 12 volunteer professional biologists from all over the state traveled to Rockford to lead science teams in their areas of specialty. Scientists from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Illinois Natural History Survey, Natural Land Institute, North Central Illinois Ornithological Society, Sinnissippi Audubon, Byron Forest Preserve, Winnebago County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Illinois Mycological Society all participated. Jessi DeMartini and John Oldenburg from Forest Preserve District of DuPage County led the insects and mussels portion of the aquatics research. Other highly qualified and experienced biologists led teams of individuals on surveys of plants, trees, shrubs, insects and birds.

The day-long event was sponsored by the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and was offered to the public free of charge, thanks to grants from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois and the Environmental Education Association of Illinois.

BioBlitz Coordinator Don Miller summarized the purpose of the event: “Short-term field collections of plants and animals called ‘bioblitzes’ are occurring throughout the United States to call attention to the rich biotic diversity of our local habitats. Too often, we think that ‘nature’ is limited to what happens in the national parks, in the tropics, or on the Discovery channel. Meanwhile, the parks and wild places in our own neighborhoods are teeming with life!”

After Saturday’s success, The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition plans to make BioBlitz an annual event. This year’s project was sort of a mini-bioblitz. Site Planning Coordinator Kim Woodin explained: “We didn’t want to get overly ambitious our first year. It was a lot to put together and promote, but with the support of all the cooperating agencies, it came off really well. We will expand it next year, including more categories of organisms, and involving more people.”

The number of organisms tallied by all the various teams came to 312. While impressive for an event of this size, it is not as high as it would be if more time and study were devoted to the Page Park site. Typically, BioBlitzes cover 24 hours and involve hundreds of people studying every category of organism imaginable. According to John Oldenburg, the 312 species total is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We found some fascinating stuff, and we took time to do a lot of education for the people on our teams,” Oldenburg said. “We didn’t set a record for number of species identified, but that wasn’t the main purpose. We had people of all ages, and from all walks of life, engaged and curious about what lives here and how it fits into this ecosystem.” In future years, BioBlitz may include more in-depth surveys of narrower categories of plants and animals, such as small and large mammals, spiders, reptiles and bats.

One of the purposes of BioBlitz is to gather data that can be used to assess and monitor ecological conditions. Jessi DeMartini offered this commentary about Kent Creek, where the Aquatics teams surveyed: “This creek is in fair condition. There are several taxa of water-quality-sensitive caddis flies, mayflies and craneflies here. I didn’t see a lot of species that were highly tolerant to pollution, which means the water is decent quality for a stream in a developed area.”

Oldenburg explained that knowledge of living things can be extremely helpful to environmental managers: “The trend now is to get away from doing water quality chemistry in the field and relying more on biological monitoring,” he said. “If you know the bugs and the conditions—what they’ll tolerate and won’t tolerate—you can tell a lot about a stream without the need for heavy and expensive equipment.”

To learn more about BioBlitz, view the BioBlitz species tally and photos of the day’s activities, visit

from the May 30-June 5, 2007, issue

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