How10,000 ci­ti­zen sci­en­tists and ex­perts helped the cause of wildlife con­ser­va­tion for Canada’s 150th

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CONSERVATION - ELISA BIRN­BAUM

What does the dis­cov­ery of a “big blob” in Van­cou­ver’s Stan­ley Park, an earth­worm in New Brunswick and a “rat­tlesnake chal­lenge” be­tween folks in On­tario’s Ge­or­gian Bay and B.C.’s South Okana­gan have in com­mon? They were all made pos­si­ble thanks to BioBlitz Canada 150, a project or­ga­nized by the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion (CWF) that saw nearly 10,000 ex­perts and am­a­teur sci­en­tists ob­serve more than 7,500 species across the coun­try.

As one of 38 Canada 150 Sig­na­ture Projects, the BioBlitz cam­paign — also known as Canada’s Na­ture Selfie — in­vited Cana­di­ans from ev­ery province and ter­ri­tory to help sci­en­tists doc­u­ment the species that call t his coun­try home. Tra­di­tion­ally, BioBl­itzes are 24- hour events that bring peo­ple to­gether to iden­tify and cat­a­logue species in a set lo­ca­tion. But this unique 2017 ini­tia­tive in­volved 35 sep­a­rate events, was na­tional in scope and had an es­pe­cially wor­thy ob­jec­tive.

In many ways, BioBlitz Canada 150 was about cre­at­ing a legacy piece, ex­plains James Pagé, species- at- risk and bio­di­ver­sity spe­cial­ist at CWF. A cel­e­bra­tion of the coun­try’s unique nat­u­ral her­itage, the event was well aligned with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 55- year- plus mis­sion: the con­ser­va­tion of Canada’s wildlife and habi­tats.

“It gave us a snap­shot of bio­di­ver­sity for this 150th year, to show Cana­di­ans what’s out there,” says Pagé. “And it al­lowed us to en­gage Cana­di­ans in na­ture ex­plo­ration with the idea that the BioBlitz is ac­ces­si­ble to fam­i­lies, any Cana­dian, young or old, to ex­plore nat­u­ral ar­eas, even right in their own back­yard.”

BioBlitz Canada 150 also pro­vided ev­ery­day ex­plor­ers — or ci­ti­zen sci­en­tists — with an op­por­tu­nity to join with ex­perts in­volved in the event to learn about species first­hand in their habi­tat. “We wanted to en­gage peo­ple in mean­ing­ful ways, en­cour­age con­ser­va­tion through sci­ence and data shar­ing, and in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tion­ists,” Pagé says.

Thanks to a grow­ing in­ter­est among Cana­di­ans in the en­vi­ron­ment and some help from so­cial me­dia, that en­gage­ment saw ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 peo­ple across the coun­try join BioBlitz Canada 150, many newly em­bark­ing on their ci­ti­zen sci­en­tist jour­ney. From the ocean floor to re­mote re­gions of North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, to ur­ban parks of down­town Hal­i­fax, CWF co­or­di­nated 35 BioBlitz events in ev­ery province and ter­ri­tory with the help of re­spec­tive part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions. For added sup­port, they cre­ated BioBlitz- in- a- Box, a tool­kit and how- to guide to en­sure par­tic­i­pants ran their events and per­formed data col­lec­tion prop­erly.

By up­load­ing their pho­tos to the Cana­dian ver­sion of iNat­u­ral­ist, ci­ti­zen sci­en­tists could also con­trib­ute to the on­go­ing in­ven­tory of Canada’s nat­u­ral beauty. The web­site and as­so­ci­ated app is used through­out the year to share ob­ser­va­tions and be­came the of­fi­cial data-gath­er­ing plat­form for all BioBlitz Canada 150 ac­tiv­i­ties.

What makes iNat­u­ral­ist even more at­trac­tive is that its ad­vanced technology al­lows the app to au­to­mat­i­cally iden­tify each up­loaded im­age, up­ping the en­gage­ment fac­tor for ev­ery par­tic­i­pant. Not sur­pris­ingly, thanks to the BioBlitz project, ob­ser­va­tions on iNat­u­ral­ist. ca more than dou­bled over the past year, with the num­ber of species found in 2017 ac­count­ing for 19 per cent of all find­ings.

To­tal ob­ser­va­tions so far ( the 2017 cat­a­loging con­tin­ues) sit at ap­prox­i­mately 40,000, with Canada’s Na­ture Selfie track­ing more than 7,500 different species across Canada from their re­spec­tive geo-lo­ca­tions. (At 493, the most- ob­served species was the com­mon ivy.)

Pagé was es­pe­cially heart­ened to see 556 species-at-risk ob­ser­va­tions, rep­re­sent­ing 87 different species. De­spite a re­cent up­grade to en­dan­gered with a risk of ex­tinc­tion, the monarch but­ter­fly was in the top spot, with 72 ob­ser­va­tions, while the yel­low­banded bum­ble­bee came in sec­ond.

Those re­sults are not just in­ter­est­ing fod­der for Cana­di­ana buffs. Know­ing how many times the but­ter­fly was seen — and ex­actly where — is in­valu­able to sci­en­tists. Con­sid­er­ing Canada’s vast ex­panse, t he sig­nif­i­cant data points can help ex­perts an­a­lyze trends and es­tab­lish a big­ger pic­ture of the species’ move­ments.

“It helps us plan for re­cov­ery,” says Pagé, adding that the track­ing of all species re­mains an on­go­ing ac­tiv­ity for CWF and ci­ti­zen sci­en­tists even though the BioBlitz is com­plete. “If we see mon­archs in one area, now we can plant na­tive plants, in­clud­ing milk­weed, to pro­vide a food source for them in those ar­eas.”

As for that “big blob,” it was found in Stan­ley Park’s Lost La­goon and is known sci­en­tif­i­cally as a rare fresh­wa­ter bry­ozoan, a colony of gelati­nous or­gan­isms. The earth­worm was a non-na­tive species, very pos­si­bly never seen be­fore in North Amer­ica. And that rat­tlesnake chal­lenge? Fi­nal tally gave Ge­or­gian Bay the win, with five eastern mas­sas­auga rat­tler sight­ings ver­sus two western rat­tlesnakes in the South Okana­gan. There’s al­ways next time.

BioBlitz Canada 150 ex­plored B.C.’s Pas­samaquoddy Bay. BBC 150

MICHAEL SCHMITT

The Van­cou­ver‘blob mon­ster’— a.k.a. a bry­ozoan — found in the wa­ters of Stan­ley Park’s Lost La­goon.

CWF PHO­TO­GRAPH

Ex­am­in­ing the va­ri­ety of species found in Cal­gary.

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