Scientists and Naturalists Gather in Quechee for ‘Bioblitz’

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(Host) One hundred fifty biologists and naturalists descended on the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee last weekend. They combed the woods and wetlands in an effort to see how many plants and animals they could find in a 24 hour period.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports on an event known as a “Bioblitz.”

(Scientist) “Oh yeah! That’s a good richness indicator, maidenhair fern.”

(Zind) The woods around the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee are crawling with people armed with nets, bags, bottles and traps. They peer into trees and down under rocks. They creep through underbrush and wade into marshes. Their goal is to identify as many plants, animals, insects and other species as possible during the 24 hour Bioblitz.

“My name is Forrest Hammond and I’m the leader for the mammal group. We’re looking for as many as 60 mammals, perhaps. Tonight we’re going to be mist netting for bats. I slept in late this morning and we’re ready to go for the rest of the day and night.”

“My name is Doug Burnham, I’m an aquatic biologist. We’re going to be looking for mayflies and stoneflies and caddisflies, crayfish, clams and mussels. We’re going to try to find as many snails as we can.”

(Zind) There have been other Bioblitzs, but this is the first one in Vermont.

(Bryn Pfieffer) “You are the single greatest gathering of biologists and naturalists ever assembled at one place in Vermont.”

(Zind) Naturalist Bryan Pfieffer is one of the Bioblitz organizers.

(Pfieffer) “Bioblitzes are part science, part education, part celebration, part discovery. We also have an obligation to share what we learn and what we know with the public. And I think that’s an important part of what we’re doing because I’m worried that more and more people are losing touch with the natural world around them.”

(Zind) Pfieffer says the Bioblitz results will show that if you look hard enough, you can find an amazing diversity of species basically in your own back yard.

Valerie Banchsbach is a biology professor at Saint Michael’s College. She’s gazing at a patch of ground a short distance from the Ottauquechee River, just below the nature center.

(Banchsbach) “I’m looking for ants, I started at a few minutes after three o’clock and in about an hour I’ve found at least seven or eight species.”

(Zind) Banchsbach is getting help from her husband and their three year-old daughter, Audrey.

(Audrey Banchsbach) “If you need another ant, I will grab one.”

(Zind) A midafternoon shower sidelines the butterfly people. They’ll join the spider team. Annemarie Busch carries a basket under the dripping canopy of trees along the trail.

(Busch) “We are fungi people, mushroom people. This is a gone-by oyster mushroom and one we have to look up in the book, which we have in the car.”

(Zind) After dark, some Bioblitzers retire to a nearby campground. But the moth team is just getting underway.

“Would you shine your bright light right down on this. Ooooh. That’s a really nice one. Yea, it’s a bomoloca.”

(Zind) Other teams are back in the Bioblitz tent, bent over microscopes, examining the days catch.

“Three of us were out collecting mosses today. And we’ve come back with a lot of moss. And the thing about studying mosses is, you don’t actually know what it is until you get it back to the microscopes.”

(Zind) By the end of the Bioblitz, unofficially more than 1,700 species have been identified. But organizers say the Bioblitz isn’t about numbers. They want the event to help draw attention to Vermont’s plant and animal life. And they hope their enthusiasm will lead to a greater appreciation of the natural world.

(Naturalist) “You want to see a nice ectopria?”
(Naturalist) “Oh yeah. Oh my God, look at that! That’s beautiful.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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