This is the sixth year that Whistler BioBlitz organizer Bob Brett has hosted his 24-hour biodiversity marathon, but he never ceases to be surprised. Last weekend a group of 62 scientists from a variety of different fields and backgrounds took part, logging roughly 600 different species of life in the process — including 50 to 100 new species that will be added to the Whistler Biodiversity Project's list.
"This year we had some really unusual specialists," said Brett. "One was a group that specialized in snowbank fungus, the mushrooms that emerge only at the edge of receding snow at high elevations. We had a PhD in slime molds who is going to give us some new species. Another expert on fair shrimps, tiny crustaceans that live, among other places, in freshwater lakes. We had an expert on moths, specifically clearwing moths that come out in the daytime and look like hummingbirds. It's great because our (biodiversity inventory list) gets bigger and better all the time, and because of these more unusual groups and specialists and the knowledge they bring. A lot of times it's just a question of being lucky enough to have a specialist here who is able to document a find for us."
The highlight for Brett, as always, is the camaraderie among the scientists and watching university professors, professional biologists, government scientists and others enjoying themselves and getting excited by their discoveries.
"I got a huge kick especially from the slime mold people, and how excited they were by the new slime molds they found," said Brett.
"Another highlight for me was the bladderwort we had under the microscope at Alpha Lake Park. It's a carnivorous plant that can be found in Alpha Lake and in a number of places here, and we had it under the microscope and watched it eating some creature we couldn't identify. It looks like a normal green plant, but when you see it in the process of eating something you get one of those 'aha' moments. It really blew people away to think that's happening around them without them knowing it... It's not quite a (Little) Shop of Horrors plant because it's much smaller, but it's capable of eating almost anything within its range that's the right size." Read: small.
The weather also cooperated this year, allowing experts to search for bats on Saturday night, stringing up nets and catching species to allow members of the public take a closer look. An owling expert also taught people how to mimic a barn owl, although none answered back.
Brett says it will take a few weeks for scientists to confirm their finds before they can publish an accurate tally, and officially add any species to Whistler's list.
"There are a few species that will take a little longer to get an exact ID on, and they're often the most interesting ones because they're usually new and rare species," he said.
The list will be published online at www.whistlerbioblitz.ca and www.whistlerbiodiversity.ca. The Whistler Biodiversity Project has been updating the inventory since 2004, and in 2011 surpassed 3,000 species.