Scientists, naturalists convene for Intervale Lowlands bioblitz

LAKE PLACID – About 70 scientists and naturalists participated in a bioblitz at the Intervale Lowlands property on Sunday, July 21.

Bioblitzes are biological surveys that attempt to record all the living species within a designated area in a certain time period. This was the third of its kind in recent years. Other ones were held in the village of Saranac Lake and at Follensby Pond near Tupper Lake. Those were coordinated by Paul Smith’s College Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, which will also get data from this event.

Intervale Lowlands is a 160-acre nature preserve owned by zoologist and conservation biologist Larry Master. The property is located on the West Branch of the AuSable River, off of River Road in Lake Placid.

In recent years, Master has been working to restore the land to its natural state and make it available to scientists for research projects. The recent bioblitz is another step in that direction.

“When we bought the property, the fields were all mowed every year, every week actually, and they were dominated by European non-native grasses, which don’t host any really native biodiversity, per say,” Master said. “So I plowed under two of these big fields and converted them to native warm season grasses and wild flowers. Since then, the butterflies and insects have just gone crazy. It’s wonderful to see. We’re getting raptors, hawks and owls coming in to eat the rodents that weren’t there before, so it’s been very gratifying to see that happen and sort of a conversion to a more natural habitat and what used to be there.”

A lot of plant inventory work has already been done on the property. Wildlife Conservation Society ecologist Jerry Jenkins had identified about 325 plants before the bioblitz, but this event helped fill in some of the gaps. The survey also added significant data in some fields that hadn’t been inventoried at all, or at least very diligently.

“The plant folks in particular found 23 new plant species,” event co-coordinator Ezra Schwartzberg told the Enterprise in an email. “Other new records include 33 species of fungi, 10 species of fishes, and even two yet recorded mammals (Masked Shrew and Smokey Shrew). The most heavily recorded group for the Bioblitz was Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), in large part because we were very fortunate to be joined by entomologists Dale Schweitzer and Michael Sabourin. After the bioblitz, Dale and Michael had increased our list of moths to 197 species.”

That moth work was done on Saturday and Sunday nights. Saturday was particularly well attended by members of the public, Schwartzberg said.

One of the reasons Master is having the property inventoried is because climate change studies are being conducted there.

“We’ve partnered with Wildlife Conservation Society to treat our preserve as a test place to develop management plans related to potential impacts in the future from climate change,” Master said. “Part of that effort is to do a fairly good baseline inventory of what’s present at the site and then to start monitoring. Monitoring started this year.”

The information gathered at the bioblitz is also being uploaded to the Internet for the public to view. Data is being provided to both the website, which has data provided worldwide by naturalists, and, a website developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Data is also available on the website.

In addition to being a valuable event that contributes to science, Master found a lot of personal satisfaction from being host.

“It’s really exciting for me,” said Master, who had a long career with The Nature Conservancy. “I was paid to do field work early in my career, and I mostly had a desk job as a conservation biologist, and now I have time where I can do field work again and interact with all these wonderful scientists. It’s great fun. It was a big social event as well. It was very educational for all of us who were there.”

Master tentatively plans to hold future bioblitzes at the property, possibly in September 2014 and another in mid-June. Holding them at different times of year would result in different species being present.

“It’s really nice to get the naturalist community together to work on group efforts like this,” Schwartzberg said. “You could definitely see how valuable that community was when they all came out.”