National Post (Latest Edition)
How10,000 citizen scientists and experts helped the cause of wildlife conservation for Canada’s 150th
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.