Community Science

Find Out How You Can Be a Scientist for a Weekend

By joining a BioBlitz team, you can help the National Park Service get to know its lands better.

If you’ve ever wanted to play naturalist for a day, well here’s your chance. This weekend kicks off the National Park Service’s BioBlitz, a country-wide effort that enlists citizen scientists to help gather wildlife data in parks across the states. Over the next few months, the NPS, along with National Geographic, is hosting BioBlitz events in 115 parks, preserves, monuments, forests, and other federally-managed lands. Here’s what you need to know if you want to get involved with this sweeping effort.

What’s the point of a BioBlitz?

The purpose of these mini nature parties is to identify and record as many species as possible in a single locale. It’s similar to Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, but targeted towards all forms of wildlife, including plants and fungi. In the case of NPS land, that’s a giant endeavor: The U.S. national parks are home to more than 5,300 species of vertebrates alone.

“We expect all of the BioBlitzes to be adding new species to the parks that weren’t previously documented there,” says Carrie Seltzer, BioBlitz program manager at National Geographic. That means people will have to ID a lot of beetles: Seltzer says mammals, birds, and other large vertebrates are well accounted for in many of the parks. “Invertebrates is where we have the most to learn,” she says.

The collected data will be added to the parks’ databases, and will help NPS officials make more informed management decisions. It could also point out any invasive species that may be creeping onto public lands.

“It really is a meaningful contribution to the Park Service to get all these citizen scientists out there with professional biologists and experienced naturalists, learning how to identify what’s in their parks,” Seltzer says.

A luna moth at the BioBlitz in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C. Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

What’s a typical BioBlitz like?

Most of the events go for 24 hours, with experts on hand to show participants how to find and identify organisms. Once the volunteers have a good handle of the process, they’ll start moving throughout the scape and identifying birds, insects, mammals, and other organisms. All the species sightings will be uploaded and catalogued on iNaturalist, an app that allows people to record plant and animal occurrences.

The iNaturalist component means the data will also be available for the public. “Anyone, anywhere—even if you can’t be at the BioBlitz in person—can look at the data on iNaturalist and can also even help add identifications,” Seltzer says. People who are pros at identifying birds, for example, can log on to the app and help figure out what species are present in the photos BioBlitz participants share. It’s a way to unite adventurers with couch potatoes, all under the great canopy of science.

Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. is hosting a BioBlitz this weekend. Photo: Jen Shook/National Geographic

Who can participate?

Seltzer says that anyone ages eight and up can come out and take part in the blitzes. There will be some events geared towards younger kids during the kickoff events in Washington D.C. on May 20 and 21, including a BioBlitz dance that involves flapping like a Turkey Vulture and hopping around like a ground squirrel.

If you're excited by the prospects of contributing to science and discovering something new, sign yourself up for a BioBlitz (it's free). The map below will guide you to your nearest one.

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