Where the wild things are 

Second annual BioBlitz to count, catalogue Whistler species

click to enlarge Summer School Volunteer Wendy Horan teaches kids about wetland species at last year's BioBlitz event. Up to 45 scientists are expected to take part this year, identifying as many species as possible in 24 hours
  • Summer School Volunteer Wendy Horan teaches kids about wetland species at last year's BioBlitz event. Up to 45 scientists are expected to take part this year, identifying as many species as possible in 24 hours

Discovering just how many species of plants, birds, animals and insects call Whistler home is a long and sometimes difficult process. Literally it means beating the bushes, peering under rocks, dipping nets into waterways, and heading out after dark to try to find all the nocturnal species that hide out during the day.

For Bob Brett, who is in his fourth year finding species for the Whistler Biodiversity Project, compiling an accurate list — already at 1,100 species, including 90 invasive species — means bringing in the experts.

For the first two years of the project, with funding from various groups, he brought in experts on everything from amphibians to wetland plants and brought them to various areas of the community to catalogue their findings. Last year, taking inspiration from events in the U.S., Brett hosted an event called BioBlitz, bringing in biologists and experts in various fields for a 24 hour species account.

A surprising number of experts turned up for the first year, 33 in total, cataloguing more than 688 species in the span of a day — including more than 200 species that were documented for the first time. Those experts also made presentations on their fields to the public at Lost Lake Park, involving hundreds of interested visitors and community members in their investigation.

And while BioBlitz was helpful in filling in gaps in the Whistler Biodiversity Project, it also helped Brett contact various experts he has since brought back to the community to help with his regular searches for species.

This year up to 45 experts will take part in the second annual BioBlitz, from noon on Aug. 9 to noon on Aug. 10. The experts are also putting on a scavenger hunt for the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment’s (AWARE) Kids Nature Club from 11 a.m. to noon on Aug. 9, and will put on presentations throughout the search period. An exact schedule will be posted online at www.whistlerbioblitz.ca as the presenters are confirmed, but one of the highlights will be a presentation in the evening on “night critters,” such as bats, owls, insects and other nocturnal species.

One area where Brett expects to make progress this year is invertebrates.

“We have a lot of insect people coming this year, a dragonfly expert, a spider expert, a butterfly specialist, an expert on aquatic bugs — so many insect experts it’s stunning,” he said. “Most people in that field tend to specialize, so one expert will focus on spiders and another on beetles, so having such a diverse group means we’ll probably see a lot of new discoveries.”

This year the search will also expand from the Lost Lake Park area. Experts are free to roam the valley, and a special trip will take interested biologists to the alpine on Blackcomb to search for species that live at altitude.

Some of the species are collected and brought back to Lost Lake Park for public viewing, while other species are recorded by camera or simply recorded by the BioBlitz participants. “Obviously they’re not going to try and bring a black bear back to the tent, but last year someone did find a deer mouse and bring it back for people to look at for a while before taking it back to its home,” said Brett.

BioBlitz is not a competition, although Brett says the experts are a little bit competitive when it comes to cataloguing species and making new discoveries. One of the highlights last year was the discovery of a chipmunk that had never been reported as far north.

Brett says the success of last year’s event has prompted other communities to hold BioBlitz events.

“It’s a bit of a feather in our cap, but before we held BioBlitz last year there was only one other record of a BioBlitz in B.C. and that was 10 years ago in Vancouver. This year there have already been four BioBlitz events in the Lower Mainland, mainly because it worked so well up here, and the scientists that took part went back and started events in their backyard. Hopefully it’s something that will keep going, you really learn a lot in a short period of time, and it’s something new and fun for the scientists. For everyone else, it just creates a greater appreciation for what’s out there — for example, I had no idea we had so many different species of moss in the valley.”

In addition to BioBlitz, the Whistler Biodiversity Project has also launched a website this year where residents and visitors can log their own discoveries on a Google Maps-based interface. The website is at www.biodiversity.ca.

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