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Close to 100 new species added to the scientific record at BioBlitz

Annual race to count as many species as possible benefitted from new spring timing



They say the early bird gets the worm, but when it comes to Whistler's BioBlitz, sometimes being early means you get a whole heap of birds, too.

For the first time, Whistler BioBlitz, the annual 24-hour race to count as many animal and plant species as possible, was moved from its usual middle-of-summer time to late spring. The June 2 date gave the more than 60 participating scientists a different view into Whistler's ecosystem, resulting in an estimated 100 new species being added to the records.

"We had a lot of experts up, and they were quite excited about finding some unusual species and even a couple very rare ones," said event organizer and naturalist Bob Brett.

Although the tallies aren't finalized, Brett said the change of date led to close to 100 recorded species of spring mushrooms, many of them new. A beetle expert, the first to participate in the blitz since 2007, also recorded at least 40 beetle species each for both Whistler and Pemberton. (The Pemberton blitz was held June 3.)

"You've probably heard the quote that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles," said Brett. "There's something like a million beetle species in the world, and we have very, very few on our list... Really, beetles should be the most populous group on our list."

This year marked the first time the weekend event coincided with the Whistler-Pemberton Breeding Bird Survey. In all, volunteers recorded 91 bird species between Whistler and Pemberton, which is "a lot higher than what we'd normally get," conceded Brett. The band-tailed pigeon, rare in B.C., was one notable find. On the flipside, volunteers also counted the fewest number of Eurasian collared doves ever recorded. The bird has become seen as a pest in the province.

The bird count, which has been running for 40 years, is invaluable to the scientific record, both locally and beyond.

"All that data goes into a North America-wide database that then helps all sorts of people figure out trends for North America," explained Brett. "It's a very important piece of a very large jigsaw puzzle."

In its 11th year, Whistler's is Canada's longest-running BioBlitz, and Brett is consistently surprised by how many new species get added to the official record even after all this time.

"The most amazing thing for me about BioBlitz over the years is we've had a really consistent number of new records every year; of all the records for BioBlitz, a little less than 20 per cent are new on average," Brett said.

Another first for 2017 was participating scientists taking their expertise into local schools, giving youngsters a glimpse at the life of a field biologist.

That initiative was such a success that Brett is hoping to do something similar next year, which could mean BioBlitz will be split into two dates in the future: one in the summer when scientists can access the alpine, and one in the spring before the school year ends.