New flower species discovered at Monroe County Bioblitz Nature Preserve
More than 70 people – scientists and citizen scientists – traveled to a swampy area in the northern lowlands of Monroe County on June 4 to document what they saw, heard and were able to collect at the Beanblossom Nature Preserve Bottoms.
Known as the bioblitz, the gathering was a first for the Sycamore Land Trust property.
As the group gathered near a platform overlooking Beanblossom Creek, Sycamore Land Trust Director of Land Stewardship Chris Fox gave instructions and talked about the importance of knowing which animals and plants the reserve contains.
Zigzag Iris documented in Beanblossom Bottoms
Although Fox has walked through the marshes and built portions of the boardwalk that crosses part of the 773-acre reserve, he is unfamiliar with all of the species residing on the reserve.
“The more I learn, the more I learn what I don’t know,” he told the crowd, adding that it included the flora and fauna of Beanblossom Bottoms. What he asked: “I need a new species from this.”
While laughter was the answer, participants found a new species: the zigzag iris, which had not been previously documented in the reserve.
The exact number of species remains to be determined as some samples are being examined in the laboratory. Even so, Sycamore Land Trust officials know that the factory team saw almost 300 species and the bird group recorded over 50. The team in search of amphibians and reptiles found about 20, and the bug team should have “some big numbers,” according to Kate Hammel, director of communications and membership for the land trust.
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“The insect group brought specimens back with them and are analyzing them over the next few months, so we won’t know the number of insects yet,” Hammel said.
The bioblitz was co-sponsored by the Indiana Academy of Science, which has conducted similar day-long blitzes at other Hoosier properties to get a glimpse of what’s there. It can take up to a year to compile the data and publish the results.
A busy day in the Beanblossom Bottom Wetlands
Scientists and people with knowledge of everything from spiders to trees came from Illinois and Indiana to participate. Most had never been in the reserve before. Some came with binoculars, telescopes, field guides, nets and vials, all ready to spend a day finding and identifying as many species as possible.
Jim Eagleman, a retired state naturalist who has led bioblitzes in Brown County State Park, was one of the attendees. Eagleman now sits on the board of directors of the land trust.
“We could never accumulate so much data on our own,” he explained, adding that this information “proves the value of the place to know what is here”.
Sycamore Land Trust Director of Education Mary Weltz was on one of the factory crews. She said the 13 taxonomic teams had been split into smaller groups to cover a larger area. Additionally, factory crews prioritized land that had not been used for agriculture in hopes of finding more diverse plant species.
While most attendees were only at the reserve for a day, some people set up traps – for insects, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals – and others set up listening devices for at night to pick up the sounds of bats and frogs and the songs of nocturnal birds like owls.
April Sterling, a Fishers volunteer, was part of the bird team. It was her first time visiting the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Reserve and she decided to participate thanks to the encouragement of her partner, Bill Murphy. Murphy was part of the insect team.
“It was interesting to visit a swamp, especially one that had such great trails,” Sterling said in an email. “One of the coolest things about the bioblitz was being around so many people who have deep knowledge on a variety of topics. I learned some frog squeals from Kamal Islam, the leader of the bird team.
“One of the things that surprised me was how few mosquitoes there were on the boardwalk,” she said. “After seeing how many dragonflies there were, I assumed they were controlling the mosquito population.”
Brant Fisher, a nongame aquatic biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, was part of the team looking for aquatic life, including freshwater fish and mussels. For much of the bioblitz, Fisher was wading through Beanblossom Creek.
Although the team found no unusual fish, they did find eight species of mussels (Yellow Sandshell, White Heelsplitter, Fragile Papershell, Washboard, Pimpleback, Mapleleaf, Pistolgrip and Deertoe) and shells from a few others.
“There was a nice patch of mussels in a stretch of the creek,” Fisher said in an email. “None of these species are listed in Indiana – but it’s always nice to see a decent diversity and abundance of mussels.”
Other discoveries during the blitz included the endangered Kirtland snake which has a red belly and is mostly underground. The snake had previously been seen on the property and also on another nearby Sycamore Land Trust property which is part of the Beanblossom Creek Conservation Area.
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“Further study is needed to better understand how to protect this endangered species,” said John Lawrence, executive director of the land trust in a prepared statement. “Finding Kirtland Snakes in Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Reserve and studying them can help us better understand how to manage this reserve to restore habitat to support threatened populations.”
Once the data is compiled, it will be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Sciences and on the academy’s website for anyone to see and use.
Indiana Academy of Sciences officials plan to return to the wetland preserve in 10 years to conduct another bioblitz to see what new species they might find and determine how the land trust’s conservation efforts have helped. the flora and fauna of northern Monroe County.
Contact Carol Kugler at [email protected], 812-331-4359 or @ckugler on Twitter.