Monday, May 03, 2010

National Geographics BioBlitz in Key Biscayne

What's a BioBlitz?  A BioBlitz (per Wikipedia) is a special type of field study, where a group of scientists and volunteers conduct an intensive 24-hour (or 48 hour) biological inventory, attempting to identify and record all species of living organisms in a given area. The area chosen is often an urban park or a nature reserve of some sort.

National Geographic organized a BioBlitz this past Friday and Saturday to conduct an inventory of the wildlife on Elliot Key involving the public, Park Service, and all sorts of scientists and students. I participated and it was a blast!

My brother, son, sister-in-law, niece and nephew spent Friday (yup, some people skipped school and others skipped work) on our hands and knees along a few stretches of rocky coast turning over rocks, looking in the shallow pools, and grabbing little critters as we saw them. We were led by some first class scientists. Very cool.

In addition to our sample gathering along the coast, we saw how they capture and release the birds, spent some time with scientists finding an array of beetles and ants in a fig tree, and spent a lot of time where the real work is done which is the preserving, cataloging, and analyzing of the samples.
The most interesting fact that I learned was when a small fig was cut open and a small male wasp was found inside. It turns out that this type of wild fig is actually an inside-out flower with the pollen inside the fig. The male wasp has already fertilized the eggs and is depositing them inside the fig as well as pollinating it. I also had an interesting discussion about the genus and categorization of fruits. It turns out that fruits and vegetables are really gastronomical terms. In terms of botany, fruits are a very large category which includes melons and nuts and everything that includes the seed. I ran out of time but I've always wanted to understand the cateogries, botanically, of roots (carrots, onions, potatoes) and leaves (spinach, lettuce).  I've also wanted to figure out what's the difference between an herb (is it a leaf?) and a spice (pepper is a seed, salt is a mineral, mustard is a seed).

In addition to the significant scientific benefits of actually having an inventory of what can be found living in the park, the BioBlitz:
  • Exposes many K12 students and adults to what is involved in real science
  • Demonstrates how little we actually know about our environment in that many new discoveries of species and behavior can be learned through this events
  • Pilots a new way for the National Parks and public lands to serve as educational venues
Great time had by all.

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