BioBlitz participants count 600 species 

Event faces extinction due to expected lack of hotel rooms

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Scientists converged on Whistler for 24 hours of study during the annual BioBlitz species count. This year's theme was spiders.

A total of 600 species of all kinds were counted between noon on Saturday, July 27 and noon the following day, with about 125 of those being species previously undiscovered.

"We had a really good crew of insect and spider specialists this year," said organizer Bob Brett after spending a few days compiling data.

Brett said 10 local scientists participated this year along with 62 visiting scientists.

While they were out counting species, home base for the event was at Alpha Lake Park in Creekside. A number of organizations set up tents and displayed things like bats, invasive species, mushrooms, fungus, snakes, fish, tadpoles, salamanders and frogs for curious park visitors to check out. Brett paddled a canoe around Alpha Lake Sunday morning gathering items to add to the displays in the park. He was surprised to learn from Elizabeth Barrett, another BioBlitz organizer, that a rare green heron had been spotted several times at the lake.

While discussing the heron a belted kingfisher flew across the lake and landed in a tree on the northeastern shore. Barrett pointed out that the adult kingfisher has a mate and the pair have four offspring that live near the lake.

Brett said the adult scientists aren't much different from the kids that learned about the various species found throughout Whistler over the weekend.

"When I look at the little kids on the beach, it's basically a bunch of little kids that grew up and kept the love for running around and looking at stuff, and the slimier the better," said Brett of the scientists participating in BioBlitz. "We have people that are as thrilled about seeing a new mosquito species as they are about a beautiful wildflower. The main thing is that there's a scientist sense of humour that is really, really fun."

According to Barrett, it is an opportunity to show people that Whistler is more than just an outdoor playground.

"There's one side of Whistler that people think of as riding bikes and skiing and then on the other side is an absolute treasure trove of animals and little critters around that people are unaware of," said the volunteer from Vancouver. "I think that if we explore it and show children they become citizen scientists, and that is really important," Barrett said.

She added that a unique group of scientists gathered in Whistler for BioBlitz. The group included Andy McKinnon, author of what Brett described as the main plant book for the Whistler area. Volunteer Jordan Rosenfeld took kids gathered Sunday at Alpha Lake to the shore to catch aquatic life for further inspection. One of the fish Rosenfeld caught was a pregnant stickleback. Seth Rodman, a UBC PhD student joined him and talked about his stickleback research.

"They make a little nest, it's like a little swim-through tunnel and they sit outside with their nice red throats making these fancy zigzag maneuvers to get the females to come over," Rudman told a group of wide-eyed kids under the age of six. "The females lay their eggs in the nest and the males take care of the babies until they are big enough to go away."

Brett said BioBlitz isn't expected to happen next year. The original event date bumped up against Crankworx, so the event date was moved to ensure there would be enough hotel rooms for the visiting scientists. The weekend BioBlitz was moved to will conflict with Ironman next year so Brett said the event is expected to be smaller next year and possibly cover a larger geographical area.

Key to the BioBlitz date is the wildflower showing in the alpine. Brett said that is a draw for the visiting scientists.

"Most of the scientists that come up here, it is the alpine that draws them," Brett said. "We want to get them up into the alpine."

He noted that if the date is moved to June or September the alpine flowers aren't in bloom or attracting birds and insects.

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