Meet the experts

Species identification (the key activity in any BioBlitz) can be a complicated task, and it has many faces, almost as numerous as biodiversity itself. Each group of organisms (butterflies, trees, birds, spiders, fungi,…) has its own techniques for scientific observation, collection and identification. A BioBlitz is a unique opportunity to see how experts on different groups work at the same time and how they apply their knowledge and expertise.

There are some organisms such as trees or birds that can be identified directly in the field. If you join a birdwatching walk you will be able to learn from an ornithologist how to distinguish the birds of the area, visiting certain places at the right hour of the day, just with the help of some binoculars or even with your ears, listening to their songs. This does not mean that birdwatching will not be a challenge: in order to maximize the number of species spotted it is necessary to know their habits, their songs and how they look like.

Other species that are shyer or inaccessible will need to be captured for a proper identification. This is the case of the small mammals or many insects. Traps will be set up for some of these animals (many with nocturnal habits) and visited regularly to check what is living in the area. Again, some species can be identified in the field and will be released immediately, although you will have the rare opportunity to see how they look like close-up if you are around.

Insect Trap

 

However, there are many groups of organisms that are really difficult to identify in the field, perhaps because they are very diverse (consider that there are hundreds of species of herbs and thousands of insects in Connecticut) or because they are tiny (such as microscopic invertebrates, or algae). In those cases, the collection in the field is only the first step, followed by the identification in a laboratory, usually equipped with instruments such as microscopes and access to the bibliography that the taxonomists need to reach the right species identification.

White Memorial BioBlitz (297) White Memorial BioBlitz (233)

Identifying species

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you come to Storrs on June 24th or 25th, make sure you drop by the laboratories in Torrey Life Sciences building. You will see entomologists dissecting the genitalia of insects (often the only way to tell apart some tricky species), botanists examining tiny details of the flowers and phycologists surveying the amazing algae diversity that can exist in a single drop of water. Every single species, big or small, counts.

In summary: light trap for insects, acoustic monitoring of bats, bird song identification, surveys of the microscopic life in the water of ponds and streams, nets to capture fishes, pressing of plant specimens,… is there any common trait in all this abundance of techniques? Although they may seem very different, they all need something: expertise. The taxonomists and naturalists leading the species identification in the BioBlitz have gained these specialized skills after many years or even decades of work and dedication. They will be there making possible for you not only to see how they work, but also to answer your questions about their organisms of interest and their activity.