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Countdown to Indiana Dunes Bioblitz

In less than 24 hours the Indiana Dunes Bioblitz begins. Researchers and volunteers will fan out across Lake Michigan’s southern shore in Indiana to inventory as many species as they can find in 24 hours. 

 

John Francis, National Geographic Vice President for Research, Conservation, and Exploration, gave me this video interview late this afternoon, shortly after I emerged from a four-hour hike through Cowles Bog. He talks about the concept of a bioblitz, why this particular park was selected, and why National Geographic is sponsoring a series of ten annual bioblitzes in urban national parks.

Video by David Braun

Over the past couple of days I have walked more than 20 miles of trails in the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, sloshing through marshes and a bog, and a number of times trekking over giant dunes to get to Lake Michigan’s beach.

I have had the trails and beaches mostly to myself, in part because it is not yet tourist season and also because it’s been cold and rainy. I’ve enjoyed the solitude and the opportunity to get to know these dunes. I’ve seen many birds and animals and heard many more, including what sounded like an owl fight (mating?) last night and, at sunset, a great chorus of frogs.

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Indiana Dunes bog photo by David Braun

Now the real fun–and work–begins. This time tomorrow the park will be swarming with scientists and volunteers trying to identify as many species as they can within 24 hours–a bioblitz.

Listing the plants will be relatively easy compared with finding some of the animals, especially the insects. One scientist told me earlier today that it would not be possible to find every insect species in the dunes, “even if the bioblitz lasted for 50 years.” That’s because some insects are very secretive and are very rarely seen, he said.

I imagined that a bioblitz involved scientists turning over logs and stones to find what they’re looking for. However, several have told me that they have tricks to lure animals out of hiding. One researcher uses squid to entice beetles into traps, for example.

The bioblitz ends Saturday, but that will not be the end of the process. It may take many weeks or months for the researchers to properly examine all the specimens they gather. Only then will we know what was truly found in the bioblitz.