State Park Bioblitz

by Jim Eagleman
courtesy photo

June 5 through June 7, 2009 was a busy time at the Brown County State Park as scientists, birders, students, serious hobbyists, and the public participated in the park’s inaugural “bioblitz.” What’s a bioblitz? A bioblitz is usually a timed (and sometimes competitive) event to account for and tally all living things (biota) in a natural area. As you can imagine, a 16 thousand acre state park with rugged backcountry presents challenges. Brown County State Park is the state’s largest park, and such an undertaking proved to be a monumental task from the very beginning.

An attempt to equally distribute taxa teams was made utilizing the park’s established 10 hunt zones but in many cases specific park habitats determined where tallies and specie inventories were collected. Taxa teams were comprised of specialists who have an expertise with specific kinds of flora or fauna. Nine bioblitz teams at Brown County represented many specialists in such areas as plants (botanists), reptiles and amphibians (herpetologists), birds (ornithologists) and fish (ichthyologists). Some Purdue teams began their inventory work on Friday and continued to Sunday afternoon. Other teams arrived just for the day, Saturday. Perfect weather allowed for longer stays in the field each day.

After registering and securing ahead of time a DNR “rapid assessment” permit, team leaders were allowed to collect species for identification and photographing purposes. GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates were entered on field sheets that specifically marked specie locations, and were later entered into data sets on laptops by volunteers at the park’s nature center, the bioblitz headquarters.

“This will go far in helping our property resource management efforts”, said Brittany Davis, park interpretive naturalist and main organizer of the event. “We now can determine the exact location of several plant and animal communities in the park. This was one of the bioblitz objectives.”

Another objective was to involve the public. The staff wanted families and park visitors to see what botanists and biologists do when conducting an inventory. Tours to some taxa sites occurred simultaneous to Saturday afternoon’s “wildlife showcase” talks at the big tent near the nature center. Members of the Hoosier Herpetological Society, for example, spoke about several reptile species they found while inventorying. Insect teams sometimes worked along side of plant teams. Members of the local Sassafras Audubon Society tallied 83 species of birds in three days.

Long-known for their quality recreational offerings, Indiana state parks and reservoirs have hosted many activities over the years for all visitors to enjoy. Enjoying outdoor activities in park settings may allow more appreciation of natural sites if more is known about what forests need, their health requirements, and “what makes them tick?” While a bioblitz will always be a public-oriented event, attention during a bioblitz centers on the “science” side of the property: what lives there, what is common or rare, and what specie might need further protection. “We need to know as much as we can of the plants and animals that call the park their home so we can be better managers for all resources,” says Brittany.

Park inventories, some of them conducted for the first time, could not have occurred if not for academic involvement. Gate and camping fees were waived to all participants and the Friends of Brown County State Park offered a wonderful Saturday evening meal for all in attendance. “We’re happy to provide these offerings to the bioblitz participants for donating their time and efforts on the park’s behalf,” said Doug Baird, park property manager.

Lists of species encountered at the bioblitz were added to the park’s database. In the end, a total of 1120 species were tallied in nine taxa. This all-biota count is the property’s first. Now, what to do with all the data?

The GIS (Geographical Information Systems) database information for Brown County State Park, as it is at all DNR properties, can now be “layered” to show plant and animal communities and their proximity to watersheds, soils, trails, roads, and structures. We now know exact locations of rare species like Yellowwood trees and orchids. Sites of Timber rattlesnake dens can be pinpointed and likely spots where the federally-endangered Indiana bat will roost. The bobcat, another species of special concern, is known to occur in remote sections of the park. Management decisions can now be better made in accordance with habitat requirements of these species of greatest conservation need. Coupling this important information with property trails for horses, bikes, and hikers, for example, will allow resource managers to consider possible alternate routes, schedule prescribed burns, and avoid intrusion of nesting time.

“We’re happy with this first attempt at Brown County,” says Mike Mycroft, chief of natural resources for state parks and reservoirs. “How we use the information, and how we continue to gather more in the future, will certainly strengthen our decision-making on behalf of the public and the resources.”

Talks and plans are already taking place for next year’s Brown County State Park bioblitz. For more program information at the park and a monthly calendar of events go to