27 Jun 2014

Bioblitzing: A New Outdoor Entertainment

by Jan Thornhill

A bit more than a month ago my friend Tony invited me to help with the fungi portion of the 2014 Ontario Bioblitz.

"Bioblitz?" I said. "What the heck is a Bioblitz?"

Rhytisma americium tar spot on silver maple leaf
When documenting fungi for a Bioblitz, you document all fungi, like this
Rhytism americanum, a tar spot that attacks native maples. 
A Bioblitz, it turns out, is a pretty cool event. It's an intense 24-hour study of a specific area's flora and fauna during which professional biologists lead teams that document all the living things they can find. It's essentially an exercise that highlights biodiversity. Though ornithologists and entomologists worked through the night looking for owls and moths and other nocturnal critters, since I was working with the fungi team, led by Jean-Marc Moncalvo, Senior Curator of Mycology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and fungi don't move around a lot, we didn't have to forgo sleep and focussed on collecting samples when they were visible—during daylight hours.

Gloeoporus dichrous
A fresh specimen of Gloeoporus dichrous. During the Bioblitz,
we only found a dried up one from the previous fall.
Bioblitzes are a perfect introduction to citizen science, since the public is usually encouraged to help. This year's May 25 event was focussed on the Humber River Watershed. There were lots of activities, including guided walks with professional biologists, batbox-making workshops, and field-sketching workshops. But the main event was documenting species, and the main event was wonderfully successful. From the 24-hour period, a total of 1,563 species have been identified so far, including 109 arachnids, 121 birds, 27 fish, 500 insects, 100 non-insect invertebrates, 18 reptiles, 94 lichens, 21 mammals, 78 mosses, 450 plants, and 45 fungi.

Lasiosphaeria ovine found on Ontario Bioblitz
That's a millimetre rule behind these fuzz-covered Lasiosphaeria ovina.
The fungi numbers were low—we only found about half the number of species documented on each of the first two Ontario Bioblitzes in 2012 and 2013, but we have an excuse: May 25 is never a prime fungi-finding time, on top of which there'd been almost no rain for two weeks.

Honey locust throne are treacherous
The honey locusts growing in our Bioblitz fungi-hunting area were treacherous! 
Undeterred, Tony and I explored a scrubby woods not far from the McMichael Gallery parking lot. It was so dry that, at first glance, it looked as if we weren't going to find anything at all other than a few gnarly, desiccated, insect-ravaged tree-growing fungi from the previous fall (they still counted, though!). But once we got down on our hands and knees, (and wiped off the blood from being stabbed by the wicked thorns of honey locust trees), and started turning over fallen branches, we found a few interesting specimens. Admittedly most of these were tiny interesting specimens, but they included some exquisite, snow white, mini stemmed cups bejewelled with dew, and a quite beautiful parasitic rust fungus (featured in my fungi blog post, here), as well as a single, charismatic, and delectable, morel. 

Lachnum subvirgineum found on bioblitz
We had to use a microscope to nail down the identity 
of these half-millimeter beauties, Lachnum subvirgineum.
It was fun. It's always fun looking for fungi. It's like a treasure hunt. So I was delighted to get an invitation to attend another Bioblitz. This one is at the Alderville First Nation Black Oak Savanna, located southeast of Rice Lake. The savanna is very special place, Canada's easternmost prairie habitat and one of the most endangered plant communities in Ontario, where the primary goal is to restore land that has previously been used for agriculture by planting and nurturing native tall-grass prairie species.  

Because there are a number of species at risk at the Alderville Black Oak Savanna site, this Bioblitz is not geared towards the public's participation in the same way that the much larger Ontario Bioblitz is, but if you'd like to visit the site you can book a tour by calling 905-352-1008. They also have programs and resources for schools, as well as an annual eco-friendly "Prairie Day," which, this year, is on Saturday, September 10. 

*You can read about a few interesting things we found during the Alderville Bioblitz on my Weird & Wonderful Wild Mushrooms blog.

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