A Yearly National Event Occurs in Tucson’s Backyard

Each year the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service sponsor a 24-hour species inventory and premier citizen-science event, called BioBlitz. Participants survey flora and fauna inhabiting one of our national parks.

In October of 2011, Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, hosted the yearly event. Highlights of the 2011 BioBlitz included the discovery of at least 859 different species in the time allotted for the inventory. More than 400 inventoried species were previously unknown in the park and at least one species—a bryophyte, or nonvascular plant—was believed to be unknown to science.

More than 5,500 people, including 2,000 schoolchildren, enjoyed the BioBlitz experience along with the associated Biodiversity Festival. Certificates for participation in educational programs were earned by many, and an integrated art program featured written pieces, both poetry and prose, devoted to the attributes of local species.

BioBlitz Mini-Grants Offered by WNPA

As part of the BioBlitz, Western National Parks Association offered mini-grants, in the range of $500 to $2,000, to a select group of University of Arizona graduate and undergraduate students who submitted proposals to improve the community’s knowledge of the diverse species found in Saguaro National Park. The best proposals included a taxonomic inventory of an animal or plant group, a citizen-science component, an educational product (webpage or classroom exhibit, for example), and a final report summarizing what is known about the inventoried species within Saguaro National Park, with recommendations for future inventories.

Projects undertaken by the mini-grant awardees included a study of endophytes (fungi living inside vascular plants), an inventory of birds within the park, organization and updating of historic data on 13,000 previously surveyed saguaros, and a beetle inventory.

A Great Success!

The BioBlitz informed visitors of the plant and animals found within the park while simultaneously providing valuable scientific data through the inventories conducted by citizens and scientists working together. Peer-reviewed papers were written, videos were created, and articles were published about the event. According to Principle Investigator Don Swann, Biologist at Saguaro National Park, “The BioBlitz was a very successful project in large part due to the support of WNPA.”