Over a period of 36 hours beginning Friday March 31 and continuing Saturday, April 1, volunteers will join with professional scientists at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area to help catalog all species of plant and animal life at the nature preserve.
The nonprofit Friends of LLELA is hosting the bioblitz, a snapshot biological survey of all the species in the area for a given time period.
Friends of LLELA board member Scott Kiester said the value of a bioblitz for LLELA is in being able to repeat and compare results of subsequent bioblitzes.
“This is just the first of many that will happen over the coming years or so we hope,” Kiester said. “Our goal is to increase awareness and involvement at LLELA and catalogue as much of the biome as we can.”
Even though the survey is a volunteer effort, the group is working hard to ensure the scientific rigor of the bioblitz.
“We have over 35 taxon leaders from 7 different colleges and universities,” Kiester said. A taxon is a biological term meaning a group or family of species of living things.
Also attending the event will be Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, Texas Forest Service staff, four Chapters of Texas Master Naturalists, members of the Native Prairie Association of Texas, the Native Plant Society of Texas, the DFW Herpetological Society, LLELA staff and knowledgeable volunteers leading survey groups, according to Kiester.
“We will be [identifying] everything from bats and beetles to frogs, toads and freshwater mussels — a key indicator of water quality — to trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers,” said Kiester.
The main portion of the event begins before sunrise Saturday, April 1 and ends after sunset. Breakfast and lunch as well as water and snacks will be provided to volunteers. There are also events scheduled for the afternoon on Friday, March 31. Admission to LLELA costs $5 per carload.
Organizers hope to have between 100 and 200 volunteers help out with the event. No previous subject knowledge is required, but Kiester said a curiosity about the natural world and the desire to help and to learn would be good.
Taxon leaders and expert volunteers will lead groups into different portions of the LLELA nature preserve to observe, record and photograph living things. Experts will assist with identifying species, and the group will use the iNaturalist online application to catalog the finds. Nature enthusiasts have already used the application to identify 700 species at the park. Kiester said he felt sure that some would be added due to the bioblitz.
One of the experts who will be participating in the bioblitz is Dr. Ann Mayo, associate professor of biology at Weatherford College. Mayo, who studies ants, will be looking to see how many species of the insect that she and her volunteers can find. She is part of a group of biologists across Texas who are trying to get a handle on the ant species that live in our state.
In 2016 Mayo participated in a similar bioblitz at the Tandy Hills Natural Area in Fort Worth. Mayo said she wasn’t sure how many species of ants she would find at LLELA.
“I suspect we won’t capture very many in terms of what’s actually out there,” Mayo said. “Some of it has to do with how much time we have and how many collecting techniques we use. Some ants are just really, really hard to catch – either in the ground or extremely tiny.”
Mayo said the scientific value was not just in finding the species on the property but in learning how the plants and animal life fit together.
“Sometimes insects and plants have to have each other for pollination and things like that,” said Mayo. “Then you’re looking at birds and mammals eating these things, so you get a good idea of the structure of the ecology out there and how healthy it is.”
Mayo explained that a lot of science is just basic curiosity, and even untrained volunteers working with other people and asking questions can guide her thinking. She said that locals who know the area can often provide scientists with insight or prompt the right questions to guide scientific study. “There’s a lot of good stuff that can come out of that,” she said.
“I’m still fascinated by finding people who will say ‘I saw this, what is it?’” Mayo said. “That’s what regular folks bring to science, and smart scientists know that. People who taught me made sure I knew that.”
For members of the general public, a bioblitz can be a good way to learn, according to Mayo.
“It’s an excellent educational opportunity,” she said. Her group’s volunteers along with some of her students will be setting traps and crawling around looking for ants.
“In between all that, we’ll be talking with people,” said Mayo. “I can be telling them about the ecology of ants and the particular species that we’re finding and what roles they may play in those environments, so there’s a lot of that and fun talking too — lot of good interaction.”
“We’re always trying to get the public and the community involved at LLELA and participating,” said Dr. Ken Steigman, director of LLELA.
Steigman explained that the Friends of LLELA organization approached him with the idea, and he agreed it was a good project. But the coordination and communication between the nonprofit and the city-run preserve has been a challenge.
“We were not prepared to have it as big of an event as it has turned out,” he Steigman said. He explained that parking could be an issue but that they would make it work.
The event falls on the same day as Keep Lewisville Beautiful’s annual Spring Clean Up event, and on the night that LLELA had been planning a volunteer appreciation party. That volunteer appreciation party has been cancelled.
An event like the bioblitz helps LLELA fulfill its mission, according to Steigman.
“Our mission is to put people and nature together,” said Steigman. “We have an educational mission and a research mission, and a restoration mission.”
Steigman said that LLELA wants to know what species are in the preserve.
“We’ve made great strides in a lot of those areas but never had a day where we’ve had all kinds of people with different backgrounds to go out say, ‘What have we been missing?’ and to share that with the interested public,” Steigman said.
It’s likely that volunteers will catalogue new species during the event, he said.
“Those groups of organisms that are smaller and harder to find, those are where your gains are going to be,” Steigman said.
Kiester said the group’s plan is to conduct bioblitzes in the future in alternating seasons with the next one occurring in autumn at least a year from now.
Friends of LLELA continues to search for experts in various fields to help with identification. They will be adding activities to the bioblitz schedule until late March.
For schedules and activity descriptions or to sign up to volunteer, visit the Friends of LLELA website.
The bioblitz is dependent on dry weather.
“We are thinking only good weather thoughts,” Kiester said.
In the event of uncooperative weather, the event could be postponed, with volunteers receiving an email at least 24 hours prior to the event.
LLELA is a 2,000-acre section of land just below Lewisville Dam that is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is operated by the City of Lewisville in cooperation with the University of North Texas and Lewisville ISD. LLELA’s mission is to preserve and restore native Texas ecosystems and biodiversity while providing opportunities for environmental education, research and recreation.