ATBI/BioBlitz SWAT Team: Week 9 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Micah Jasny is a graduate student from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University working this summer as an E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation intern, as part of the ATBI/BioBlitz SWAT Team. His work is supported through a partnership with Discover Life in America. This summer he will try to discover new species to add to the park inventories in order to better understand park ecosystems and how to care for them. He also plans to help other scientists working in the park with their biodiversity surveys and scientific research. In the upcoming weeks, he will give weekly updates about his forays into the park and report back on his biodiversity research.

This weekend, we attended the quarterly DLIA board of directors meeting at Purchase Knob in North Carolina. This meeting gave us a deeper insight into the administrative aspects of DLIA and the effort required to maintain an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI). The plan was that I would join the DLIA interns, and we would drive down Friday afternoon to help set up for the meeting and then explore Purchase Knob. We would then have the board meeting all day Saturday and then head back home Sunday morning.

Video courtesy of Dan Mele Photography & Film

The board meeting was held at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center that sits at the top of a treeless ridge overlooking the rest of the Appalachians. The Science Learning Center was originally a house built in 1964 by Kathryn McNeil and Voit Gilmore and then donated to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. The views from the patios and decks of the Science Learning Center are breathtaking. In front of the center is about a mile or so of rolling meadows filled with wildflowers which transition into dense green forest. Beyond Purchase Knob are mountains and valleys that look like the folds of a bright green blanket. In the morning, the sun peaks out over mountain tops, illuminating the clouds that flow through the valleys like a puffy white river. The DLIA interns (Mark and Dan), and I arrived at Purchase Knob early Friday afternoon and immediately set out on a hike around the mountain. We spent much of that time turning over rocks and looking under logs for salamanders and other interesting bugs. We even got some nice pictures of some wood frogs that hopped across our path.

Image of the mountains over the clouds.
Photograph courtesy of Dan Mele Photography & Film

The next morning, we awoke at 6 in the morning to watch the sunrise and then prepared for the board meeting. DLIA has 24 board members, most of whom either traveled to Purchase Knob for the meeting or participated via teleconference. Members of the board of directors represented local benefactors, educators, and partners, including a couple of park officials. After a quick breakfast, we all sat down and began the meeting. We began by discussing potential future interactions between DLIA and Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other partnerships. These talks included ideas for future funding, educational opportunities, and joint ATBI projects with current and potential DLIA partners. We also went over upcoming DLIA events including the salamander ball and upcoming BioBlitzes. In these conversations, Todd Witcher, the Executive Director of DLIA, would usually inform everyone of what planning or actions had already been taken and what still needed to be finished and then the board would divide these responsibilities among themselves. We were also able to watch a new DLIA promotional video that Dan had been working on over the previous couple of weeks (video embedded above).

Image of a frog on moss.
Photograph courtesy of Dan Mele Photography & Film

One topic that excited many of the board members was the ATBI best practices manual that I have been working on. As previously mentioned, this best practices manual will serve as the blueprint for conducting an ATBI. The manual will walk through setting up the ATBI organization, determining a location for an ATBI, raising funds and gathering resources, and establishing a methodology for the inventory processing. While decades old, the idea of ATBI is still new and we are still figuring out the right and wrong ways to conduct an ATBI. Because of this, we have discussed the possibility of creating a website for the ATBI best practices manual that will allow future alterations to be made as new ATBI techniques are tested and evaluated.

The last important topic we touched on during the board meeting was the efforts being made to grow the ATBI movement both nationally and globally. Nationally, DLIA is trying to establish new ATBIs in areas where biodiversity is relatively unknown. As the founders hoped that the ATBI movement would eventually grow to be a global inventory, we are also trying to setup an international inventory network where organizations can coordinate inventory efforts. This network may one day be able to better define global species habitat ranges and generate a vast amount of information that will be critical for future conservation decisions.

Image of hills on a field.
Photograph courtesy of Dan Mele Photography & Film

It was a wonderful opportunity to see more of the administrative aspects to running a non-profit organization. In my experience, many internships only give a glimpse into specific components of the organization (research, web design, administration, etc). Working with DLIA this summer has given me a variety of experiences in learning new sampling techniques, how the organization is run, how to manage the website, and setup events. It has been an amazing opportunity and I have learned a ton!

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