BioBlitz: On the Hunt for Plants and Animals

Walking around the NJIT and Rutgers-Newark campuses, looking for animals and plants of all kinds and reporting them to the organizers, that is the “BioBlitz” event in a nutshell. During this year’s BioBlitz, 719 sightings of 220 species were made by 132 observers and identified by 87 identifiers as of Saturday, September 25.

According to the Department of Biological Sciences’ Urban Ecology Laboratory, made up of Gareth Russell, Dan Bunker, Maria Stanko and Caroline DeVan, the first event called “BioBlitz” occurred in 1996, at Kenilworth Park in Washington DC. “Since then, they’ve become popular citizen science events, happening anywhere from relatively pristine national parks to urban sites like NJIT,” the lab says. On September 23, a BioBlitz was held on the NJIT campus, hosted under the lab’s banner and coordinated with the Albert Dorman Honors College as part of their freshman environmental focus. “Our campus BioBlitz started as a Rutgers-focused event and then expanded to encompass both Newark campuses.” This year, Russel continued, is the first year that “we will have a coordination center on the NJIT campus itself.” The NJIT has always joined, but “there’s less participation if you don’t have a table on campus.” This year, the level of participation was significantly higher. The week-long event covered all NJIT and Rutgers-Newark campuses, although Rutgers’ event had to be rescheduled for another day due to storm warnings.

Over the past three BioBlitzes in Newark, more than 200 different species have been counted each time. “On an urban campus like ours, the main animals people will find are invertebrates such as insects, as well as birds and squirrels. Other mammals such as mice are undoubtedly here too, but difficult to spot,” the lab informed. “But biological diversity includes plants and fungi, and there are a lot of those too.” Once spotted, the data is logged into the iNaturalist system, which is “an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature” according to its website. For this year’s BioBlitz, the Gray Squirrel was the most spotted (17 times), followed by the Spotted Lanternflies (13 times). “[The Lanternflies] seem particularly drawn to the glass facade of the WEC,” Russel said. “They are an invasive species that is sweeping through our ecosystem.” As of September 26, Russel has logged over 300 species at this year’s event, setting the all-time campus record combined.

Stanko, who ran the coordination table with Russel, explained what they do after collecting the data: “We spend time verifying the results. Is there anything abnormal? Do we need to follow something? Were there any misinterpretations? The results, she continued, are used to better understand native and non-native species on campus, as well as recommendations for the future to ensure better habitat. On top of that, the lab says, “The main purpose of a BioBlitz is to raise awareness of the biological diversity around us, even in an urban place like NJIT.” According to them, the NJIT campus could be much friendlier to wildlife. The stuffed birds on the coordination table, for example, are all birds that died because they hit the windows of the NJIT. “I hope to make our campus more wildlife-friendly,” Russel said.

A few steps have already been taken: the lab reports that the Honors College is trying to improve things with its annual planting design competition. “This has led to the pollinator gardens behind the ADHC itself, and will soon include the slope between Eberhardt Hall and Bleeker Street.” Another competition created by both the Honors College and the lab is to solicit designs for the Campus Center rooftop garden. “One of UEL’s visions is to make our campus a ‘Living Lab’ for ecological and environmental research. Anyone interested in being part of this effort should get in touch! the lab encouraged. “We now know that exposure to nature provides a measurable improvement in people’s psychological well-being, especially in contexts, such as a city, where nature is normally scarce. Even small changes can bring big benefits. We think for NJIT it’s a win-win! »