BioBlitz Lincoln 2009: 1637 species in 24 hours!

On the 3–4 April 2009 hundreds of people gathered at the Liffey Stream in Lincoln to experience the chaos of exploration and discovery that is a BioBlitz. This 24 hour scientific race against time and educational event was held in conjunction with Lincoln Envirotown, Lincoln University and Landcare Research. The BioBlitz aimed to find and identify as many species as possible of everything within 24 hours, including plants, plant viruses, fungi, lichens, microbes, spiders, mites, insects, birds, worms, fish, and mammals. Yes, everything!

At 3.15pm on the Friday, Selwyn district councillor Lindsay Philps welcomed the crowd and New Zealand’s famous bugman, Ruud Kleinpaste, kicked it off with an inspirational speech about biodiversity before stripping off his top to reveal his Bioblitz t-shirt underneath. The 24 hour countdown had begun. Swarms of primary school children ran to the first scheduled event with Ruud, collecting invertebrates. Vials were given to all willing participants and children were soon collecting invertebrates and running back to base camp to get the scientists to identify their bugs. The line was long but enthusiasm was high. From this point, base camp was a hive of activity. Displays of Canterbury mudfish, aquatic invertebrates, weta and more were scattered around the marquee for the public to see while biologists got to work as the specimens poured in.

The Lincoln BioBlitz in full swing
Photo by Andrew Goodger, Lincoln University.

Water testing, lizard, plant and bird walks, mammal tracking and many more activities were offered throughout the event. These were popular, especially the mammal spotting at night led by Lincoln University’s James Ross. There were so many children on this walk that it was too noisy to spot anything so they had to go out again!

The Lincoln BioBlitz found an amazing 1637 different kinds of life, almost half of them species of bacteria. That’s a lot of things for a small stretch of stream side in a small rural town. They include many surprises. Peter Johns of Canterbury Museum identified a native flatworm species (Newzealandia agricola) that had not been recorded in over a hundred years. Jerry Cooper from Landcare Research identified the first ever New Zealand collection of a European acorn fungus. Cor Vink of AgResearch identified a Banks Peninsula endemic spider usually found in forest. An unusual native earthworm is still being identified but may be something new. There may be more as collation of the data is now occurring and a final report will be available later this year.

While most of the little creepy-crawlies like mites and spiders were native species, the plants and fungi they crawled on were mostly wild exotic species. While 20% of the plants were native, most of these have been recently planted. Of the wild plant species found, only 13% were native. This is a reflection of the massive transformation to the flora that has occurred on the Canterbury Plains in the past two centuries. It is promising that some natives have been recently planted back into the area. There is great potential for improvement.

Most birds were also wild exotics, a reflection of how much the Canterbury Plains has changed. Only three of New Zealand’s native forest birds were found in the area: one singing bellbird, a grey warbler, and several fantails. There was a surprise sighting of a white heron.

Similarly, none of the butterfly species unique to New Zealand were found. Only the European cabbage white butterfly and the North American monarch butterfly were present, both abundant.

Table 1. The number of species counted at the BioBlitz Lincoln 2009, separated by groups of taxa and, for those species known, how many are endemic (found nowhere else in the world but New Zealand), non-endemic indigenous species (also native elsewhere), and introduced exotic species. The count in the “All” column is often more than the sum of the previous columns because it includes species where status has yet to be determined.
Group Endemics Indigenous Exotic All % native
annelids and molluscs 28
bacteria 802
birds 4 8 17 28 41.4
fungi 4 3 36 45 16.3
insects 24 15 11 201 78
lizards and frogs 0
lichens 32
mammals 0 0 6 6 0
mites 7 22 4 56 87.9
nematodes 11
plants 51 19 274 344 20.3
plant viruses 6
protists and algae 47
spiders 22 2 7 31 77.4

The Bioblitz was a fun way to teach the wider community about the vast diversity of species that live in their backyards. The excitement, enthusiasm and willingness to become involved made this event very popular and a huge success. While it is sad that the proportion of natives is small, especially for plants, fungi, and birds, the efforts by the locals to increase the planting of native plants, and so increasing the suitable habitat for native animals, is encouraging. We hope that this BioBlitz will help to further inspire the Lincoln community to celebrate their local native biodiversity.

More photos of BioBlitz action:

Entomological celebrity Ruud Kleinpaste entertains the crowd.
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

Lizard-woman, Marieke Lettink, wrangles a lizard.
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

Ecological action for all ages.
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

NIWA scientists electrofishing to sample fish (do not try this at home)
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

Bobbing for eels!
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

Max Whyte holds a Canterbury Plains tree weta (Hemideina femorata).
Photo by Mike Bowie, Lincoln University.

This blog post was written by undergraduate student Sam Rowland as part of her research placement course (Ecol399), supervised by Jon Sullivan.

Leave a Reply