BioBlitz has citizen scientists help with biodiversity study

By: Jeff Nelson, The Daily Astorian
October 8, 2012

HUGH McKENNA — For The Daily Astorian
Celeste Mazzacano from the Xerces Society, photographs a dragonfly during BioBlitz 2012. The Xerces Society is an international, nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Mazzacano and others from the society were manning the Dragonfly Pond Watch station by the lake on the Yeon property near Sunset Lake Saturday.

How diverse is our ecosystem?

How do educators best engage the public’s interest in conservation?

Nature and science were the focus at Sunset Beach Saturday, as the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and North Coast Land Conservancy presented the 2012 Clatsop Plains BioBlitz.

The day-long event was best described by organizers as “part biodiversity festival, part scientific endeavor and part outdoor classroom.” Working as citizen scientists, the public joined teams of science specialists to document as many invertebrate species as possible, including beetles, spiders and bugs.

It’ll take months to compile the data and draw conclusions, but it’s clear that Clatsop Plains is alive with a variety and abundance of less-studied organisms. There were no new species to announce, but a rare worm was identified through use of a sand-sifter. A rare beetle was also unearthed.

To citizen scientists like 10-year-old Malena Weller of Astoria, the day was one of discovery. “I found a dragonfly,” she said.

Where it took place

The event kicked off at the National Park Service’s Yeon property, located a 15 minutes’ walk from the Fort To Sea trailhead parking lot. The 100-plus-acre site houses a large rustic beach cabin, now used as a retreat. The house is actively being restored as a work in progress.

Norman Yeon, who died in 2004, bought the house from Clatsop County in 1958 for $25,100. Yeon was a philantrophist who lived in San Francisco.

North Coast Land Conservancy Executive Director Katie Voelke said Yeon intially placed a conservation easement on the property to protect it for the public. He bequeathed the property to the Trust for Public Land. Through a lengthy process, it came into the hands of the North Coast Land Conservancy, which in turn conveyed it to the National Park Service.

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park Education Specialist Cathy Peterson said Yeon was a philantrophist, collector of Asian art, merchant, and real estate investor.

This is a wonderful way for people to engage in science and also learn about the place that we live in, said Peterson about BioBlitz.

The outdoor setting stretched from the forest, dunes, and wetlands to the open water and beach. Discovering and documenting nature walks were held to look at lichens, birds and mushrooms.

Highlights also included dragonfly observation, nature photography demonstrations, scientific illustration demonstrations and native plant identification. Oregon State University scientists led the tours, accompanied by students from OSU and Lewis and Clark College. A steady stream of citizen scientists trickled in throughout the day.

Interactions

Andy Moldenke, from OSU’s Department of Botany, specializes in the interaction between arthropods and pollinating plants and arthopods’ role in decomposition. Saturday’s event was intended to engage more people in the study of biodiversity “rather than just waving a flag and feeling good and fuzzy about it,” he said, “unless you take honest to goodness measurements from now to next year and next year and what not, the world is so complex you can never use that information unless you do that in a systematic way.”

Moldenke said a disconnect has occurred as the world has become urbanized; BioBlitz works to counter that and bolster conservation. He said public participation helps scientists better describe the world to determine whether the world is getting better or “falling into the rock heap.”

He said 99 percent of knowledge gained about bugs in Oregon is the result of scientists’ study in Europe, where events likje BioBlitz are more prevalent. “You can always get unusual discoveries.”

Moldenke also studies bees. “The bees that live here have to deal with these terrible temperatures and humidity, so the only bees that live here are the same bees that live way up high in the Alpine Mountains and that go on up to Alaska and the Yukon.”

He said colleague Dave Madison was surprised to find Alpine-Arctic insects at Sunset Beach. All the insects gathered at BioBlitz will be preserved at Oregon State University. Results of the study will be posted eventually on the National Park Service website.

Madison is director of the Oregon State arthropod collection. He and students scoured ponds with nets Saturday where high school and middle school groups had located diverse insects just the day before.

Madison said insects, worms and crustaceans divide the world more finely than larger creatures. “So an elk roaming through here, this would all be one big territory. But to the little guys, each little microhabit is very distinctive to them.”

Yellow pan traps are used to sample bees, wasps, and flies. Ultraviolet light is used to lure insects at night.

Dragonflies

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation staff scientist Celeste Mazzacano said the Portland-based society is chairing and coordinating a migratory dragonfly partnership.

“We are on the West Coast in one of the main flyways for dragonfly migration. Many people do not even know that dragonflies migrate like birds do.” Mazzacano said the society is partnering with organizations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to involve and educate the public in dragonfly migration studies.

Sixteen species migrate in North America but there are a “big five” that migrate annually. The “variegated meadowhawk” is a red species that is located at Sunset Beach.

The perfect location

Organizers saw the Yeon property, located near the Fort to Sea trailhead that’s the start of the 6-mile long trek to Fort Clatsop, as perfect for the project. Gearhart resident Bob Webb was among those who marveled at the Yeon property’s pristine beauty.

North Coast Land Conservancy Executive Director Katie Voelke indicated that purchase of the Yeon site by the National Parks Service is a great fit with Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

“We talked about the potential and what could it be out here, that could probably reach our mission, too, because Lewis and Clark talk about going through the prairies, and it’s relatively close to the Fort Clatsop unit,” she said.

Voelke said the house is a great resource for children, education, and use as a retreat. The sprawling beach cabin is located in the middle of the 107-acre site.

BioBlitz events have been sponsored nationwide and all over the world, allowing the National Park Service to discover and document thousands of species on public lands. North Coast Land Conservancy Stewardship Director Celeste Coulter said Saturday’s BioBlitz was planned for more than a year by both agencies.

“It’s a beautiful day, and it’s a lot of fun,” concluded OSU’s Moldenke.

Read the article in the Daily Astorian

 


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