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History of Biodiversity Discovery in Parks

Historically, biological surveys on NPS lands have focused on charismatic species such as birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Biodiversity Discovery focuses on lesser known, but more diverse, groups of plants and animals, such as: invertebrates, fungi, and lichens, among others.

Velvet Leaf Blueberry
The 5,000th Discovery—the velvet leaf blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides)—was a new plant record at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Heather MacCulloch.

Pioneering an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory

An All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) is an effort to document all species within a defined area. In 1997, Great Smoky Mountains National Park began the first ATBI in the U.S., which still continues today. Hundreds of scientists and thousands of volunteers have been involved in the effort and findings have been integrated with park management and interpretation. By 2009, this ATBI has discovered over 850 species new to science and over 6,250 species that are new records for the park.

Since the pioneering efforts at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, many other parks have begun efforts to explore their biodiversity. These parks have surveyed and studied everything from invertebrates at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area to bacteria in the high alpine lakes of Yellowstone National Park.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area BioBlitz Participants
BioBlitz at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Photo by National Geographic Maps.

Bioblitzes Are a Fundamental Building Block

A bioblitz is part rapid biological survey and part public outreach event that brings together scientists and volunteers to compile a snapshot of biodiversity in a relatively short amount of time. It is not intended to be an exhaustive inventory, but can contribute to a more comprehensive ATBI effort. Many engage school groups and "citizen scientists" of all ages. Bioblitzes can generate large quantities of data in short amounts of time and often highlight the educational aspects of biodiversity discovery. They are an essential component of any ATBI. Not all parks have the resources to commit to a full ATBI, but many, like Acadia National Park, have conducted a number of bioblitzes. To find an upcoming bioblitz, visit the calendar of events.

Climbers at Yosemite
Rock climbing groups partnered with the Yosemite National Park to collect these hard to reach lichen specimens. Photos by Crista-Lee Mitchell and Martin Hutten.

Partners Magnify Impact

For many parks, partners such as Friends Groups , non-profit organizations, and universities are essential in successfully conducting biodiversity stewardship activities. For example, Discover Life in America coordinates the ATBI at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In addition, a partnership with the National Geographic Society will support a large-scale Bioblitz in a national park every year until the NPS Centennial in 2016. Scientists from The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and universities were involved in the 2009 Bioblitz at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with support from more than 300 partner organizations and companies and participation of thousands of volunteers and high school students.

Some parks are working with special interest groups whose specific skills can assist in longer-term efforts focused on specific taxa and/or microhabitats, such as lakes or caves.

By improving our knowledge of biodiversity in parks, all of these activities support and enhance the basic conservation mission of NPS. Engaging citizen scientists to assist in supervised biological surveys increases visitor investment and enjoyment in parks and can lead to increased understanding of parks, future advocacy, and the ability and interest to preserve and protect park resources.

Last Updated: November 07, 2011