Organizational guide adapted from the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn.
BioBlitz Organizational Guide
This BioBlitz Organizational Guide was produced in direct response to phone conversations that I had with people from across the country asking “how do you do a BioBlitz?” Each year since 1997, I have been involved in organizing a different BioBlitz event. Each one was larger than the previous and each had organizational nightmares that had to be dealt with. This guide is the compilation of that experience.
For convenience in organizing your BioBlitz, this guide includes a checklist and a schedule. If you have any comments, please feel free to contact me.
Ellen Censky, Ph.D.
Ellen J. Censky, Director
Connecticut State Museum of Natural History
University of Connecticut
2019 Hillside Road, Unit 1023
Storrs, CT 06269-1023
Ellen DOT censky AT uconn DOT edu
What is a BioBlitz?
The first step in conducting a BioBlitz is to determine why you want to do a BioBlitz. What are the objectives? The BioBlitz is a great tool for educating the public about the diverse array of species in an area. The BioBlitz will not give you a complete inventory of species; it’s just a “snapshot” of what species occur in the area. If you want an inventory, there are more comprehensive techniques.
Designed as part contest, part festival, part educational event, part scientific endeavor, the Connecticut BioBlitz brings together scientists in a race against time to see how many species they can count in a 24-hour biological survey of a Connecticut park. The public is invited to observe the scientists’ activities, to interact with them, and to participate in other activities that are presented by the Museum and a host of invited nature-oriented organizations.
The BioBlitz is designed to increase the public’s awareness of the variety of life in their immediate neighborhood and the services these various species provide to improve the quality of their lives. We usually hear the word “biodiversity” in regard to rainforests with their vast number of species. Yet the diversity of life in our own backyards is phenomenal. We take for granted clean water, fertile soil, and air to breathe. Yet these are all the result of working ecosystems filled with species that perform these tasks. From our morning shower to our late night snack, we are supported by biodiversity every minute of the day. What better way to address the topic than to invite people to share in our 24-hours of discovery and to experience the vast array of species that we can find in their neighborhood park in just one cycle of the day?
The BioBlitz is an excellent tool for exciting children about science. This event generates energy and enthusiasm among scientists and lay people alike. It is rare for biologists from many disciplines to have the opportunity to get together, share their passions with each other and the public, and work toward a single common goal. This event is designed to capitalize on that and to encourage interaction with scientists at the “base camp.” The “base camp” is the hub of the BioBlitz. It is a centralized tent equipped with microscopes, computers, and other tools of the trade. This is where identifications take place, species are recorded, and the tally of species is recorded. Inside the tent, one parent enthusiastically commented about the event, “If I had attended an event like this when I was his age”, pointing to her four-year-old son who was busily sorting moths in one of the entomologist’s pans, “I probably would have become a scientist. I just never knew that anything like this existed.”
The BioBlitz also generates a list of species found in the park, a first step in successful park management. The BioBlitz has the potential to identify species that should be monitored or controlled. It may also identify unique aspects of the park that might otherwise not have been known. This information along with recommendations from the scientists is supplied to the park and the city. Imagine the cost of hiring 168 experts to conduct a survey and make recommendations for park management!
Connecticut State Museum of Natural History's BioBlitz Overview
The CSMNH BioBlitz kicks-off on a Friday at 3 PM and ends precisely 24 hours later, at 3 PM the next day. Unlike some other BioBlitzes that gather specimens for 24 hours and then continue to count and identify species until they are done, the CSMNH BioBlitz stops counting at precisely 3 PM on Saturday, whether or not there are more species to be counted. There are three reasons for this: a precise beginning and ending point lends to the “race against time” aspect of the event, makes the event more impressionable to lay people as everything occurs in just 24 hours, and allows us to have a closing ceremony where we can announce the final tally.
The base camp is the “hub” of the BioBlitz. It is an area that has a building, pavilion, or tents where most activities take place. The base camp is equipped with microscopes, computers, a tally board, lights, and a large coffeepot. This is where identification of species takes place, data are recorded and species are tallied. It is a hive of activity throughout the 24-hours.
While there is scientific survey activity for the 24-hour period, the general public is invited to attend the event from 10 AM to 3 PM on Saturday. They are encouraged to interact with the scientists as they identify and count species. In addition, supplemental activities, such as demonstrations, relevant exhibits, and make-and-take projects are offered under public education tents near the base camp. These activities are held in close proximity to the base camp so visitors can see what the scientists are doing at all times. A stage and microphone are set up in the same vicinity, and periodically during the day announcements are made and interesting discoveries are communicated. In addition, a tally board is placed in a visible spot and the number of species found is updated throughout the event.
The closing ceremony starts between 2:30 PM and 2:45 PM. Dignitaries in attendance are given the opportunity to speak to the gathered public at this time. At 3 PM, the scientists are asked to stop counting and the interesting results of the BioBlitz are presented and the final tally announced.
How to Organize a BioBlitz
There are several aspects to organizing a BioBlitz, from recruiting scientists to choosing a site to finding funding. The details for the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History’s BioBlitz are outlined below.
A key component of conducting a successful BioBlitz is to recruit as many scientists as possible. In addition, the greater diversity of expertise, the more species will be found. And, the more invertebrate specialists recruited, the more species will be counted. This is because there are a limited number of vertebrates that will be found in a given area, but the number of invertebrates seems limitless. The more disciplines that are represented among the experts, the larger the tally.
Keep in mind when recruiting surveyors that you need “experts” to conduct the survey. The objective of the survey is to count as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. Because of this time constraint, the surveyors must be able to identify species correctly and as quickly as possible. For the most part, only invertebrates will be collected to aid in identification. Other species will be identified in situ. Complete confidence in the identifications that are being tallied is essential for a successful BioBlitz. If a surveyor says that he/she saw species x, you must trust that it is species x. For that reason, the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History relies on team leaders to assemble their survey teams.
- ��Team leaders – one or two people for
each taxon should act as the team leader. That is, one or two botanists to head up the botany team, one herpetologist to head up the amphibian and reptile team, etc. These should be people who not only are experts in their field but also know other experts.
- Team leader(s) gather together a
team of experts to conduct the survey. The team leader determines who is or is not on the team. Quality control at this level is essential to maintaining confidence in species identifications.
- Team leaders set the strategy for
the team and determine who does what. For most teams this is not complicated (e.g., herps – determine who goes where and all members look for all species). For insects and other invertebrates, however, it becomes more complicated. Generally, collecting is done through the night and intensive identification begins in the morning. Someone goes through the samples sorting to Class or Order, then a specialist for each group sorts to species. It should be clear that the objective is to determine how many species you have, NOT to put a name on each species. This is another reason why you want experts doing the survey. They will know what constitutes a species (in their area of expertise) even if they do not have a name for it at the moment.
- Team leaders communicate with
their teams on all aspects of the survey. Other communications about logistics (e.g., when to arrive, where to go, etc.) can be done by the BioBlitz organizer. The easiest way to impart this information is via emails.
- At the event, surveyors should
check-in at base camp before heading out to survey. At that time they should sign-in, receive a map of the park with a tally sheet, be given any special instructions about food, sleeping arrangements, access to park, etc., and meet with the team leader.
CHOOSING A SITE Choosing a site may seem simple; however, there are several things that should be kept in mind when making your decision.
- There should be an area that can
serve as “base camp.” This site, at best, will have a building or pavilion out of which to work. At minimum, it should be a large area where a tent(s) can be erected for scientific and educational activities. ��*The “base camp” should be accessible by the public and by the scientists themselves. The area should be large enough to accommodate the number of people (surveyors and visitors) that you anticipate. The area should be near a parking lot or an area with ample parking. If possible, there should be separate parking for the scientists.
- The base camp should have access to an electrical supply. You will need
electricity for microscopes, lights, a microphone, laptops, and most importantly, the coffeepot.
- If possible, the site should be diverse in habitats. The more types of habitats there are, the more species you will find.
The most effective educational activity that occurs at the BioBlitz is the interaction between the visitor and scientists. This should be encouraged because the passion that the scientists have for their study cannot be duplicated through activities. With that said, it can be enhanced by providing activities that help to explain what the scientists are doing, why they are doing it, and what biodiversity is and why it is relevant. To do this, you might want to invite other organizations, nature centers, and societies to help you provide activities. The number that you invite will vary depending on your own ability to provide these activities. A separate tent or tents should be erected near the base camp for these activities. PUBLIC SUPPORT The BioBlitz is a great tool for educating the public about biodiversity. In order to do this, then, you need to get the public to attend the event. We have been successful in getting attendance at the BioBlitz at little cost to the Museum by sending press releases for advance articles to the local media, and alerting radio and television stations about the event. A press release must have: ��Name of organizing group ��Name of organizer’s media contact person with phone number and email address ��Headline such as “BioBlitz in Keney Park June 1, 2000” ��First paragraph should include the date, time, place, event name, and a one-sentence explanation of what will happen at the BioBlitz, who the organizer is, admission fee or “free” if there is no charge, and a phone number that the public can call for more information. The community can be alerted by sending postcards to residents in the local area. Flyers can be sent to schools in the region, and signs or billboards announcing the event can be placed in the vicinity of the park. It is important to invite politicians to this event. Every opportunity should be taken to educate our elected officials about biodiversity and the environment, as they are the ones casting the final votes on issues that relate to these topics. In addition, if you are able to attract politicians to the event, you may also attract media attention. EXPENSES AND FUNDING The BioBlitz can be relatively inexpensive to run. There are, however, costs that will be incurred. The following is a list of possible expenses: ��Tent rentals: If you do not have a building or pavilion for the scientists to work under, you may have to rent a tent. Likewise, you may have to rent tents for activities. ��Tables and chairs: You will need an adequate number of tables and chairs for scientific and educational activities.