What are bioblitzes and how do they support science?

What are bioblitzes and how do they support science?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

What on earth are bioblitzes and why do they matter?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant

What are bioblitzes and how do they support science? Wildlife observations by citizen scientists can help conservation efforts.

From a peregrine falcon in Alberta to a common giant flying squirrel in Taiwan, the City Nature Challenge 2021 succeeded with more than just flying squirrels, but flying colours! With 419 participating cities, across 44 countries, this 4-day international bioblitz wrapped up on May 3 and set records for the number of citizen scientists (52,000+), observations (1,200,000+) and identified species (45,000+). But what on earth are bioblitzes and why do they matter?

Child using binoculars in forest
Photo by Maria Sbytova from Canva.

What are bioblitzes?

First, let’s break up the word “bioblitz” to better understand what it means. “Bio” means “life” and “blitz” means “a sudden, energetic and concerted effort.” Put these words back together and a bioblitz is an event aimed at identifying and counting as many living organisms as possible within a 24 hour period. This includes plants, animals and fungi. Who participates in a bioblitz? Anyone, including scientists, outdoor enthusiasts, students, families and more! All you need to become a “bioblitz-er” is a willingness to learn, enthusiasm for exploring, a comfy pair of shoes and some SPF!

“Nature selfie” for Canada

To celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary, Bioblitz Canada 150 and Canadian Wildlife Federation teamed up to organize 35 bioblitz events stretching from coast to coast. With the goal of engaging Canadians from all walks of life to explore the richness of biodiversity, this bioblitz saw nearly 10,000 people identify 7,510 species including 87 at risk species like gray whales and monarch butterflies. While this milestone event offered a “nature selfie” for 2017 and highlighted biodiversity on a national stage, bioblitzes shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions. Let me tell you why.

How do bioblitzes support science?

Bioblitzes are tons of fun, but did you know that bioblitz data can be used in scientific research and help conservation efforts? As it turns out, phones aren’t just good for keeping in touch with family and friends and playing Pokemon GO. One app in particular called iNaturalist is commonly used to collect bioblitz data as well as casual sightings by citizen scientists. Sightings entered into iNaturalists can be used by researchers to study plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, invertebrates, mammals and more. From 2020 onwards, iNaturalist data has been used in at least 50 studies

Here are some examples of amazing findings from 2020:

Example 1: A threatened species of Philippine bumble bee hadn’t been observed since the 1990s until two iNaturalist observations confirmed that this rare and vulnerable species is still inhabiting the Philippines. This highlighted the importance of citizen scientists and biodiversity databases like iNaturlists in tracking at-risk populations. 

Example 2: Researchers used citizen scientist observations to track the annual decline in butterflies across western United States to better understand the role of climate change on insect populations.  

Example 3: A study on the bamboo tiger longhorn beetle used iNaturalist recordings to track sightings of this non-native species throughout Europe. Researchers suggest that citizen science initiatives and databases have the power to track the spread of invasive species and provide early warning systems.

Here are four ways to join (or start your own) bioblitz:

Northern checkerspot butterfly on yellow flower
Photo by Heckepics from Getty Images/Canva.

1. Every spring, the City Nature Challenge encourages city-dwelling citizens to document urban biodiversity. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s event.

2. Summer is approaching quickly, which means so is the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Backyard Bioblitz. From July 26 to August 2, Canadians can submit wildlife observations on iNaturalist in an effort to better connect people to nature. Make sure you register with NCC to receive educational materials and activity sheets for families!

3. The Canadian Wildlife Federation lists upcoming bioblitz events here. You can also request to have your own bioblitz event listed on the CWF site.

4. Host your own bioblitz on iNaturalist with this easy how-to guide. This is a fun idea for birthday parties, school projects, community events or special days like the International Day for Biological Diversity coming up on May 22 (if and when health mandates allow).

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 2.2

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: Nationalize the bioblitz models developed by the Royal Ontario Museum, Nature Canada and BioBlitz Canada 150 in partnership with other organizations working locally across Canada.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for regular posts exploring each action.