TWI's second-ever BioBlitz finds nearly 900 species

On August 3 and 4, participants in the Wetlands Initiative’s second-ever Dixon Refuge BioBlitz made biodiversity history by finding and identifying 883 species of living things over two days—far exceeding the final tally of 675 species from our first BioBlitz in 2015. From eastern red bats and raspberry pyrausta moths to indigo milk cap fungus and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, the 2018 BioBlitz was a vibrant and immersive nature experience to remember.

“We had two goals: to increase our scientific knowledge of biodiversity at the Refuge, as well as to give area residents an opportunity to experience the Refuge’s unique plants and animals firsthand,” said Anna Braum, TWI assistant ecologist, who served as the staff liaison for participating scientists and led a guided plant survey herself. “We learned some lessons from the first BioBlitz that we used to improve this year’s event, and people really enjoyed getting to explore the Refuge, observe new species, and contribute to the data collection process with fellow nature enthusiasts.”

More citizen scientists and use of the iNaturalist app both contributed to the higher number of species found and identified. In total, 90 members of the public signed up for guided organism surveys led by more than 30 experts and scientists from across Illinois who volunteered their time and expertise. In addition to recording finds on printed data sheets, participants could take photos of the creatures they observed and upload them with identifications to be confirmed by the online community on iNaturalist.

International ant expert Mark DuBois of Peoria led a guided Ant and Insect Safari as part of the Dixon Refuge BioBlitz activities. Photo by Rafi Wilkinson.

“We thought we would try out iNaturalist this year as an alternate form of data collection that people could use,” said Phoebe Thatcher, TWI communications and development assistant, who coordinated the public recruitment for the Blitz. “It ended up working beyond our wildest dreams, with 667 confirmed species and 1,346 individual observations on iNat so far. It was awesome to watch the results rolling in after the Blitz.”

You can view the total BioBlitz species lists here and the photos and observations in the BioBlitz iNaturalist project here. The event was sponsored by Refuge neighbors Marquis Energy and Luminant (formerly Dynegy), as well as Ameren Illinois.

With so many people searching, the unusual sightings came streaming in. Notable finds from the Blitz weekend included:

  • The federally endangered rusty-patched bumblebee, never before recorded at the Dixon Refuge and found within 10 minutes of the BioBlitz’s official start on Friday.

  • A strange yellow gelatinous fungus called Entonaema liquescens, only the second-ever record of this species in Illinois.

  • A total of 413 plant species, including 16 new plants never previously found at the Refuge including swamp loosestrife and ebony spleenwort.

  • 100 bird species, including unusual or rare birds such as Upland Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Sedge Wren, Henslow’s Sparrow, and several Yellow-billed Cuckoos—many of them found at the new Sandy Hollow tract of the Refuge.

  • 141 moth species identified to date, including luna moths, a huge, beautiful pale green saturniid (a family commonly known as giant silk moths).

The federally endangered rusty-patched bumblebee was found at the Dixon Refuge boat launch at the start of the BioBlitz, the first time it was recorded at the site. Photo by Gary Sullivan/TWI.

Participants faced hot temperatures but no rainstorms (unlike in 2015), and exciting nighttime surveys were conducted for the first time. Ornithologist Steve Bailey led an owl prowl that resulted in a back-and-forth “conversation” with a Barred Owl, while scientists with the Illinois Bat Conservation Program showed awestruck visitors bats up-close that they captured in a mist net at Sandy Hollow. Finally, entomologists from the Field Museum and the Peoria Academy of Sciences set up late-night “light traps” that attracted thousands of nocturnal insects to illuminated tarps.

“With the huge number of species recorded at the Refuge, especially new species (141 types of moths alone!), we are really seeing the payoff of a diverse and complex landscape approach to restoration,” said Gary Sullivan, TWI’s senior ecologist. “These data will now help guide how we manage the site in the years to come, especially for the many rare, threatened, or endangered species that call the Dixon Refuge home.”

The Biodiversity Festival gave participants a chance to see organisms up-close that scientists found on the different surveys, such as this northern pike. Photo by Vera Leopold/TWI.

Another new element of the BioBlitz in 2018 was a Biodiversity Festival held under a large tent at the BioBlitz “base camp” by the Refuge boat launch parking lot. Many of the participating experts set up family-friendly, hands-on educational stations so attendees of all ages could learn more about the different organisms being surveyed. Participants could visit seven different stations to learn about sedges and fungi, view stuffed birds from the Field Museum, see aquatic insects up-close through an electronic microscope, hold a live snake, and more.

While the festival was popular, participants also were excited about going out to search for species with people of various skill levels. “I enjoyed being with a mix of citizen scientists, outdoor enthusiasts, and natural resource professionals from a myriad of institutions and backgrounds,” wrote one attendee in a follow-up survey. “It made it fun and very interesting!”

In keeping with the event theme of “Nature’s counting on you,” thank you to the experts and citizen scientists alike who stepped up to make TWI’s second BioBlitz a great success. Biodiversity fans can also count on TWI to host more BioBlitz adventures at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge in years to come!

View a slideshow of BioBlitz photos

View observations in the 2018 Refuge BioBlitz “project” on iNaturalist

View species lists from the 2018 and 2015 BioBlitzes