A huge group of scientists and local citizens will aim to answer that very question on September 14 and 15 at the annual Ontario BioBlitz. The Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) at the University of Guelph has teamed up with the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, Ontario Nature, Rouge Park, the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority and the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre to organize this exciting public event. A bioblitz gathers volunteers to conduct an intensive 24-hour biological inventory of a park or region, attempting to identify and record all species of living organisms. Each bioblitz also has a huge educational component, and the Ontario BioBlitz will be no different, educating the public about biodiversity with workshops, hikes and other public activities.
BIO will have over 30 volunteers participating in this year’s event — a team made up of taxonomic experts, field collection specialists, keen young students, and science outreach staff. Angela Telfer, for instance, is the Database Coordinator for the bioblitz, and will be leading a small team of volunteers tasked with maintaining the species inventory, collection data and images. She is excited to be involved and optimistic about the outcome. “The 1450 species collected at last year’s BioBlitz was impressive — the highest ever recorded for Canada in fact. But I’m confident we’ll surpass that total this year. We have over 400 volunteers this year, and everyone is eager to break that mark.”
Jayme Sones, the lead for BIO’s collecting team at this year’s bioblitz, agrees. “The largest improvement over last year, in my opinion, is the addition of DNA barcoding. Those really tiny, difficult to identify organisms can now be targeted, groups such as nematodes and mites. There are very few taxonomists that work on these taxa in all of North America, so finding experts to attend is often impossible. With DNA barcoding, we can place an unknown nematode or mite in a vial, bring it back to BIO and recover its DNA barcode in the lab in a matter of days. Then we query the DNA sequence against the massive Barcode of Life Database, and voila — a species identification that can be added to the park inventory! We plan to barcode up to 5000 specimens of animals, plants, and fungi, so I’m predicting we far surpass last year’s record”.
For more information on this event, and to find out the final species total on September 15, visit the Ontario BioBltiz’s website at www.ontariobioblitz.ca