Bio-Blitz researchers hunt for new species
BY TERRENCE MCEACHERN, LEADER-POST
In what is being called the largest wildlife survey ever done in Saskatchewan, researchers and students are preparing to cast a wide net across the southern part of the province to address the lack of knowledge regarding biodiversity and certain species.
“The Prairies are no longer that wild, native prairie space. There is a lot of crops grown and a lot of human activity that has changed the landscape,” Ray Poulin, chief curator of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, said.
“For some species, that has been great. For other species, not so much. But until we are actually out there looking, we don’t know which direction it goes.”
Beginning Monday, teams of museum scientists and about 10 post-secondary students will be deployed to five base camps for the Bio-Blitz project – the Big Muddy Valley, Killdeer Badlands, Great Sandhills, Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park and Cypress Hills. The project is expected to wrap up in August.
While in the field, teams will use rented houses and campers as a base, but will also be pitching tents as needed, Poulin said. Students will not only gain experience collecting and identifying subjects but will also learn non-scientific aspects of the job, such as engaging landowners.
The goal of the project is to establish a starting point to measure biodiversity changes in the future.
“If we had a (baseline) from 100 years ago, we could go do this Bio-Blitz and say, ‘How does Saskatchewan’s biodiversity today compare to what it was 100 years ago?’ Well, today will actually be our starting point for future looks at our biodiversity,” Poulin said.
Poulin notes that research often focuses on large mammals or birds. But the plan of the Bio-Blitz is to collect and identify species of insects, lizards, snakes, mice and other small animals that “often get left behind.” Once collected, specimens will be taken back to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum for further study. However, the focus of the research is pollinators, mainly bees.
Poulin estimates there are about 200 species of pollinators. He believes there could as many as 100 more that have been there all along, but are undiscovered.
“So much of agriculture and crop production depends on pollination, and yet, there is a lot to learn about bees and pollination in our province,” he said.
For stakeholders such as provincial and federal parks in Saskatchewan, revised knowledge about types of species will be useful to enhance visitor experience, he said.
One area researchers will focus on is endangered species and species at risk.
“You can make mistakes if you don’t have good information, so you could call something endangered that maybe isn’t as rare as you thought it was because you haven’t looked for it as much,” Poulin said. “Or, vice versa, maybe you thought something was common and it’s not as common as you thought it was.”
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