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BioBlitz scientists tally new species on Douglas Island

Posted: Friday, July 09, 2010

It's been nearly two weeks since the first BioBlitz Southeast Alaska event was held in Juneau, but it will be many more weeks until all the data is tallied, the species logged and new findings revealed.

It was an important event played out on a lighthearted stage that will ultimately help scientists log the presence of species they could only have guessed existed in the area.

"Much of Southeast Alaska has had few, if any surveys done," Steve Brockmann, who helped manage the event, said. "(Scientists) can develop lists, but until you get on the ground, you really don't know what's out there."

They know now. The preliminary prognosis according to Brockmann, who is also a deputy field supervisor with the Juneau office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, points to all things good.

"Everyone considered BioBlitz Southeast a grand success. We were hoping the public turnout would outnumber the 50-60 scientists," he said. "We had over 300 families show up, and that was great."

But humans were not the only species on hand.

"We came up with a species list that totaled 763," Brockmann said. "Some of the samples (have been) sent off for identification ... so, we're still tallying the count."

The event was a culmination of months of planning and by the end of the two-day event over 50 scientists, friends and families from the Juneau area had searched out birds, plants, small mammals, bats, owls, freshwater fish, marine plants and animals, aquatic invertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates and even lichens. At any given time, there were small groups scattered up and down the Fish Creek drainage, from the alpine to the ocean, in search of local biodiversity. There were also activities and presentations at the Eaglecrest Ski Area lodge, which served as event headquarters, throughout both days.

Highlights included the discovery of bear tracks that were thought to be from a brown bear and some new, and still unnamed, invertebrate species. Additionally, around 69 species of lichens were found by the lichen team.

For now some of the data has departed with the visiting scientists, who will examine their findings and apply it to their own studies and cataloging efforts. Collected specimens, such as aquatic insects and plant samples, will be identified, added to museum collections, such as those at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and some have been sent to specialists for study and will eventually be returned. Some may be used to educate others on the finer points of identification.

There were even some unwelcome species discovered.

"There was a team specifically looking for invasive species," Brockmann said. "These are typically aggressive pioneer plants that can push out native species. One they found was the Ox-Eye daisy ... they actually did pull some weeds, but there's a lot of that daisy left and we don't want it to get into our wilds."

This daisy, whose scientific name is leucanthemum vulgareis, is common in the Juneau area, but not part of the native flora.

Of the event, Brockmann said it was particularly gratifying to see the community's support.

"To see all the families out with kids that are interested in the natural world ... the neat part was that they (were able to) accompany the scientists," he said.

It's an aspect of the event that tapped into the "fun part of wildlife biology and plant ecology" Brockmann said.

"One of the exciting things about going into a new area, is to see what's there. (Scientists) don't always get out in the field, to get their hands on the animals or, at least, document their presence," he said.

Organizers got such a strong positive response from participants, thoughts have already turned to next year.

Brockmann said they'd like to make this an annual event and believes it would not only benefit participating scientists, but also the community as a whole.

For more information on this year's BioBlitz event, go online to alaska.fws.gov/index_bioblitz.htm.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



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