Biological diversity: discovery, science, and management in this issue

Catching the buzz: Getting the word out about bees

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Catching the buzz: Getting the word out about bees

Another key objective of the project was to educate park staff, volunteers, and visitors about the remarkable diversity and eco logical importance of native bees, as well as their potential vulnerabilities to climate change. We encouraged parks to actively engage interns, volunteers, and citizen science groups by recruiting them to run the sampling transects. For example, a group of Virginia Master Naturalists ran samples at George Washington Birthplace (Va.), while Santa Monica Mountains and Channel Islands (Calif.) combined forces to train students from two local colleges and an after-school youth leadership program to collect their bees. Student Conservation Association and Youth Conservation Corps volunteers sampled bees from high-elevation meadows in Yellowstone (Wyo.). Great Basin (Nev.) cleverly timed some of its bee sampling to coincide with its Hymenoptera bioblitz. It is clear that more than a few office-bound permanent NPS staff saw bee sampling as an ideal opportunity to escape their offices for a pleasant sunny day in habitats abuzz with flowers and bees. Who can blame them?

Each participating park will receive a summary of the bee data collected at its site in the form of a two-page resource brief, and species data will be available digitally through the Inventory and Monitoring Program’s NPSpecies database. The resource brief will include a description of the sampling methods and a map of the transect locations (for future reference), a graphical comparison of the species found in common and vulnerable sites, a discussion of significant finds, contrasts, predicted risks to bees in vulnerable habitats with climate change, and suggestions for management actions or conservation concerns if warranted. These may include maintaining or restoring host plants for bee specialists or ensuring the availability of suitable nesting sites. The briefs will provide an effective way to share information about the project with administrators, resource managers, scientists, interpreters, and visitors. We will also prepare regional resource briefs to summarize findings in vulnerable habitats across regions and to suggest regional management guidelines.

We want to provide parks with engaging interpretive tools. For example, we can know a lot about bees, appreciate them as pollinators, and feel concern for their well-being in the face of environmental threats, but it is difficult to truly connect with an organism you can’t see very well. Perhaps one can fall for the charm of a bumble bee, but most bees are just too small to admire aesthetically. Sam Droege and colleagues have been working hard to overcome this problem with a cost-effective camera setup for putting even the tiniest sand-dwelling Perdita bees in a highly magnified spotlight (bottom photo, page 88). Several hundred images of bees collected in national parks, demonstrating a magnificent diversity of form, color, texture, and pelage, are available for any type of educational use at (with many additional western species in the photographic queue).

Another (free) resource for fostering an appreciation for the diversity of bee bodies, natural history, ecology, and behavior is Bee Observer Cards, which were developed collaboratively by the Encyclopedia of Life and the Farrell Lab at Harvard University. Much of this work was funded by the National Park Service for this bee project, and all participating parks will receive hard-copy decks of the cards, which can also be downloaded electronically from

In the end, among the most significant outcomes of this ambitious project will be the simplest: an awareness that native bees deserve attention in our national parks, and a realization that there are important discoveries to be made in almost any habitat we choose to investigate. Many parks have already engaged in new bee-focused activities as a result of their participation in the project. For example, at Fire Island (N.Y.), interpretive programs highlighting native bee diversity are planned at the William Floyd Estate this season; at Organ Pipe Cactus (Ariz.), new sampling transects were set up to document the bee fauna associated with an endangered acuña cactus; and at Isle Royale (Mich.), a college intern was recruited to extend its collections and photograph bees. Says Paul Brown, chief of natural resources at Isle Royale, “Prior to the study we knew of only a handful of bee species on the island … now we are aware of over 60 species.” We hope the success and relevance of this work will inspire even more parks to catch the buzz.


Grundel, R., R. P. Jean, K. J. Frohnapple, J. Gibbs, G. A. Glowacki, and N. B. Pavlovic. 2011. A survey of bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of the Indiana Dunes and northwest Indiana. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 84:105–138.


Quite simply, without skilled taxonomists we could generate no data from biodiversity studies. The following taxonomists are identifying tens of thousands of bees for this project: Michael Arduser, John Ascher, Jason Gibbs, Terry Griswold, Kimberly Huntzinger, Jonathan Koch, Michael Orr, and Karen Wright.

Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government. This article is contribution 1854 of the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center.

About the authors

Jessica Rykken ( is an associate with the Farrell Lab, Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ann Rodman ( is branch chief for Physical Resources and Climate Science at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Sam Droege ( is a research wildlife biologist with the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. Ralph Grundel ( is a research ecologist with the USGS Great Lakes Science Center in Porter, Indiana.

Great Lakes Pollinators

By Jessica Rykken, Ann Rodman, Sam Droege, and Ralph Grundel

Around the western Great Lakes, bees were sampled at five parks (see map) in paired fore dune and inland habitats. The two habitats were compared within and between parks (photo, at left). Dune ecosystems are often restricted to a narrow zone near the Great Lakes, and we might expect that species inhabiting such restricted habitats are more vulnerable to extirpation from changing climate than bees in more common inland habitats. Although parks in this region are separated by up to 715 km (444 mi), a site in one of the habitat types (dune or inland) shared more bee species with like habitats across parks than it did with its paired (different) habitat within the same park (fig. 1). The marked differ ence between dune and inland bee communities suggests that forces of environmental change differentially affecting habitat types across this region will act on different sets of pollinators (fig. 2).

[Lakeshore dune site at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Credit: NPS Photo]

The lakeshore dune site at Pictured Rocks (Mich.) on Lake Superior.

[Map showing the national park areas in the western Great Lakes area that participated in the bee inventory: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.]

(Inset) An uncommon mining bee associated with deep sand, Perdita swenki, was found in large numbers at the vulnerable lakeshore dune site at Pictured Rocks. It was also found in the dunes at Indiana Dunes (Ind.) and Gateway (N.Y.).

Credit: USGS

[Graph showing similarity among bee species based upon like habitat use in the five western Great Lakes parks that were part of the bee inventory, as follows: Foredunes-inland: 0.70; Inland-inland: 0.86; Foredunes-inland: 0.87.]

Figure 1. Bee species are more similar among like habitats (foredunes or inland) across five different parks than they are among foredune/inland–paired habitats within parks.

[Graph comparing bee species richness in vegetated dune (vulnerable) and meadow (common) sites at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. Number of species for each genus and each of two habitats (vegetated dune [vulnerable] and meadow [common]) follow: Megachile: 3 dune, 0 meadow; Colletes: 2 dune, 0 meadow; Agapostemon: 1 dune, 0 meadow; Coelioxys: 1 dune, 0 meadow; Epeolus: 1 dune, 0 meadow; Melissodes: 1 dune, 0 meadow; Perdita: 1 dune, 0 meadow; Osmia: 1 uniquely dune, 1 shared between dune and meadow; Sphecodes: 2 dune, 1 meadow; Ceratina: 1 dune, 1 meadow; Lasioglossum: 6 uniquely dune, 4 uniquely meadow, 1 shared dune and meadow; Andrena: 1 dune, 3 meadow, 2 shared; Nomada: 0 dune, 2 meadow; Bombus: 3 shared dune and meadow; Augochlorella: 1 shared dune, 1 meadow]

Figure 2. Comparison of bee species richness in vegetated dune (vulnerable) and meadow (common) sites at Pictured Rocks (Mich.), showing the number of species unique to each habitat type.
Insect pollinators of Denali: A survey of bees and flower flies

By Jessica Rykken

[A bumble bee feeds on a purple-colored flower stalk. Credit: Jessica Rykken]

A male Bombus sylvicola (forest bumble bee) feeds on Eskimo potato (Hedysarum alpinum).

[The author holding a net used for collecting insects. Credit: Jessica Rykken]

The author with net: Looking for pollinators in an Alaska summer often requires a wool hat and rain gear.

[A vane trap. Credit: Jessica Rykken]

Vane trap: Pollinators are attracted to the blue color of the trap.

[Golden-belted bumble bee. Credit: The President and Fellows of Harvard College]

Bombus balteatus, the golden-belted bumble bee, is a species of high elevations and latitudes.

Denali National Park and Preserve’s Researcher-in-Residence program, coordinated by the Murie Science and Learning Center, was created to bring academic and other researchers to Denali (Alaska) and to facilitate sharing of knowledge and resources among scientists and Denali resources staff, interpreters, and visitors. For obvious reasons, much of the wildlife research carried out in Denali’s vast wilderness to date has focused on the “big five” (caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, moose, and Dall’s sheep). However, in 2012, my proposal to survey “the other fur-bearers” of Denali, namely insect pollinators, was met with great enthusiasm by park staff, and I was awarded the grant.

Pollinators are critical to maintaining healthy plant communities and functioning ecosystems, and in the subarctic wilderness of Denali they may be especially vulnerable to effects from climate change. Changes in pollinator diversity, abundance, phenology (e.g., timing of pollinator emergence and foraging activity), and range over time may also serve as effective indicators of change for larger ecosystem processes. Establishing baseline data on these insects has potential long-term benefits for monitoring, in addition to giving the park new information about lesser-known realms of biodiversity.

The survey focused on bees (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) and flower flies (Diptera: Syrphidae). I spent five weeks collecting these pollinators in various habitats along the 145 km (90 mi) park road, and was joined by park staff and volunteers on several days. Collecting techniques included active netting and two types of traps: “bee bowls” (small painted cups filled with soapy water) laid out in transects and individual “vane traps,” which lure pollinators into a blue vane attached to a collecting jar. Focal habitats included alpine and shrub tundra, rocky ridges and summits, river gravel bars, edges of roads and trails, and lower-elevation meadows.

In all, the survey yielded 13 species of bumble bees (502 specimens), 7 species of solitary and parasitic bees (50 specimens), and 42 species of flower flies (328 specimens). Bees were identified by me, with assistance from Jamie Strange and Terry Griswold at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Bee Biology and Systematics Lab in Logan, Utah; all flower flies were identified by F. C. Thompson at the Smithsonian Institution. Among the pollinators were one specimen of Bombus occidentalis, a bumble bee that has all but disappeared farther south in its range but is apparently thriving in many locations in interior Alaska, and a single specimen of a flower fly new to science in the genus Cheilosia. Several of the flower flies represent new published records for the state of Alaska, and almost all species, with the exception of at least seven bumble bees, are new records for the park.

Denali’s Researcher-in-Residence program also promotes outreach, and at the park I engaged in various activities to educate park staff and visitors about Denali’s pollinators. This included leading a “Denali-ology” seminar; delivering presentations to the public, interpretive staff, and natural resource management staff; and giving weekly microscope sessions at the Murie Science and Learning Center to show visitors the diversity of pollinators up close. After leaving Denali I worked with park staff to create a pollinator fact sheet for the park, and I’m currently collaborating on a “Virtual Tour of Denali Pollinators” for the visitor center and the Denali Web site.

About the author

Jessica Rykken ( is an associate at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has been involved in biodiversity discovery work at Acadia National Park, Boston Harbor Islands NRA, George Washington Birthplace National Monument, and Yellowstone National Park.
Monitoring bee diversity and abundance in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area: A pilot study

By Jessica Rykken

Boston Harbor Islands received NPS Challenge Cost Share Funding in 2010 to pilot a native bee monitoring project. This extended the first phase of an All- Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (focused on terrestrial arthropods) the park had been conducting for the previous five years in collaboration with Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Globally, bees have been of conservation concern because of their critical role as pollinators in natural and agricultural ecosystems, but populations of many species are declining and there is evidence to suggest that their ranges are shifting in response to changing climates. Native bees are an ideal group to monitor on the Boston Harbor Islands because they are diverse and abundant, easy to sample with a standardized, repeatable protocol, and have a taxonomy that is relatively well known.

The two main objectives of the project were (1) to develop and pilot a monitoring program with adequate power to detect relatively small changes in bee abundance and diversity over five-year intervals, and (2) to assess the feasibility of involving citizen scientists in all phases of the project, including field collecting and lab processing. We used “bee bowls” (small painted cups filled with soapy water) to sample bees. Each sampling transect comprised 30 bee bowls spaced 5 m (16 ft) apart. Sixteen transects were set up on nine islands and sampled at intervals during the blooming season (April to October). This work yielded an impressive 3,938 identified bees, comprising 104 species (approximately 60% of the total bee diversity known from the islands) and including 23 new park records. Among the bees were 26 “cleptoparasitic” species, also called “cuckoo bees.” As their name suggests, cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nests of other host bees, and their developing larvae kill the host progeny and eat their pollen and nectar provisions. Cuckoo bees are thought to be good indicators of the health of the entire bee community, as they are dependent on robust host bee populations for their survival. Three nonnative bees, Apis mellifera (honey bee, introduced by European colonists in the 1600s), Andrena wilkella, and Lasioglossum leucozonium, were collected in small numbers; none are of management concern for the park.

[One side of a brochure that identifies bee species at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area]

The project involved developing a foldout field guide to bee genera found at Boston Harbor Islands NRA.

In addition to one full-time entomologist from the Museum of Comparative Zoology (me) and one dedicated paid intern, 24 students, volunteers, NPS staff, and other professionals logged more than 450 hours with the project, including 57 field hours and 394 hours in the lab sorting, pinning, labeling, and databasing specimens. I identified the majority of the bees with assistance from Sam Droege at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland, who also helped with developing the statistical design for the monitoring program, and John Ascher at the American Museum of Natural History. This project successfully integrated scientific and community involvement goals. All sampling and processing protocols were developed and documented with citizen scientists in mind, so that they will be easily replicable in future monitoring efforts. We also produced a field guide to the bees of the Boston Harbor Islands, which includes photos and descriptions of 24 bee genera found in the park and provides easily accessible information about important park pollinators to park staff, volunteers, and visitors alike.

[Volunteer recording data in the field. Credit: Jessica Rykken]

A volunteer records data while setting out bee bowls on a warm, sunny day—just right for pollinators.

[A sign in the field interprets the presence of bee bowls for the purpose of inventorying pollinators at the park. Credit: Jessica Rykken]

Signs were set out at both ends of each bee bowl transect to inform passersby about the bee monitoring project and to ensure that the cups were not mistaken for trash.

About the author

Jessica Rykken ( is an associate with the Farrell Lab, Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Biodiversity inventories and the advent of a volunteer-based natural resource management program at Wolf Trap

The “Flight of the Bumblebee,” birds, butterflies, and more

By Christopher Schuster

Long regarded for its outdoor performing arts venue, Wolf Trap now incorporates a focus on natural resources. Wolf Trap was established in 1966 as the first, and still only, national park devoted to the performing arts. The complex is the direct result of the energy and philanthropy of Catherine Filene Shouse, who donated the land, partially funded a theater building, and spearheaded the legislative effort to es tablish the park. The Filene Center, which seats approximately 3,500 people under cover and 3,500 more outdoors on a sloping lawn, is the centerpiece of the park and has been hosting performances every summer since 1971 (fig. 1). An 800-seat outdoor amphitheater, the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods, is also tucked away next to the stream that runs through the park.

[Aerial photo of the Fillene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Credit: NPS Photo/Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts]

Figure 1. For tens of thousands of visitors annually, the performance at Wolf Trap is all they are exposed to. However, surrounding this venue is approximately 60 acres of naturalized landscape complete with two streams, a pond, and a newly implemented hiking trail.

An integral part of Ms. Shouse’s vision, and the primary mission of the park, is the experience of live performances in an outdoor setting. The 117 acres (47 ha) donated by Ms. Shouse had been a working farm for several hundred years, and was and still is split roughly evenly between open grass/developed area and woodland. The iconic Wolf Trap visitor experience was established early in the park’s history as dining al fresco under shade trees around the old farmhouse and picnicking inside the performance area seated on the grassy lawn while listening to the symphony.

Natural resources?

Though picturesque and beautiful to be hold, this controlled image of the outdoors relied on intense human maintenance. The parkland in the main visitor and theater area was treated as a landscape setting and heavily maintained for turf, ornamental trees, and shrubs; the natural resources in other portions of the park were ignored almost completely. The only walking trail in the park was a small, informal trail linking to neighborhood paths; many areas in the park were not accessible and therefore went unmanaged and unobserved. Interpretation of natural resources, including climate change and other NPS priorities, was neglected, even though the park has received more than 400,000 visitors each year. Still, park files and species lists from the 1970s and early 1980s attest to early efforts to address natural resource management policies of the National Park Service, but these endeavors never gained much traction.

Despite the presence of 60 forested acres (24 ha), two streams, several wetlands, and severe problems with exotic-invasive plant species and overabundant white-tailed deer, Wolf Trap had virtually no natural resource program. Vascular plant and vertebrate inventories were carried out by the National Capital Region’s (NCR) Inventory and Monitoring Program and other resource needs were addressed by the NCR Office of Natural Resource Science with minimal involvement by park personnel. Although it is recognized as having significant natural resources, the park has never established a resource management position. Also, the general management plan completed in 1996 did not result in any new research or additional inventories of natural resources.

Start of a natural resource–minded program

In 2007, Philip Goetkin began working in the park as a gardener (fig. 2). He read ily admits that he was guilty of many of the unsustainable landscaping practices performed there at the time. In 2009 he enrolled in a course for which Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, was the required text, and he was inspired.

[Head gardener, nursery staff, and author of a book on suburban meadows discuss native plants at Wolf Trap. Credit: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts]

Figure 2. Head gardener and grounds super visor Philip Goetkin coordinates with Claudia West, ecological sales manager at North Creek Nurseries, and Catherine Zimmerman, author of Urban and Suburban Meadows, to plant native plugs in the meadow.

Mr. Goetkin recognized the utter lack of science-based natural resource management in the park and decided that something needed to be done. He also understood that gaining support would be difficult in an environment that was so heavily focused on the maintained landscape. He would make it his mission to prove that ecological value and aesthetic quality could coincide and enhance the park experience and park purposes.

He saw the visitor area of the park in and around the Filene Center, parking lots, and picnic grounds as an opportunity to educate the public about environmentally friendly landscaping practices. In 2009 the park staff and a group of volunteer Girl Scouts removed turf grass in a small area near the main entry to the Filene Center and replaced it with native plants. The idea was to showcase how native species could be used instead of cultivars to create a decorative garden area that would pass aesthetic muster in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. This was the beginning of a paradigm shift at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

In 2010, Mr. Goetkin became the park’s head gardener and a maintenance supervisor and began implementing a number of forward-looking projects. For the first time in park history, funding was obtained through youth program sources to hire natural resource interns, who dedicated themselves to carrying out the innovative projects. This was a turning point in convincing park staff, visitors, and partners of the value of developing an active natural resource program at Wolf Trap. That year, a cooperative agreement was signed with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to construct a 2.5-mile-long trail in the park’s wooded areas. Not only does this trail enhance outdoor recreation at the park, another of the park’s legislated purposes, but it also provides accessibility through many of the wooded portions of the park. This access, which did not exist before, has proven invaluable in subsequent natural resource inventory work. In 2011 the park decided to convert a 1-acre (0.4 ha) site of manicured lawn that is encircled by the Filene Center’s entry into a meadow of native grasses and forbs (figs. 3–5). A $30,000 grant provided by the Wallace Genetic Foundation (a private foundation) was used to purchase native plants.

[This grassy area at Wolf Trap is called the Dimple and was transformed to a native plant meadow. Credit: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts]

Figure 3. Located directly in front of the Filene Center main gate and box office is the area commonly referred to as the “Dimple.” This 1-acre site, used primarily as a stormwater holding area and for parking, was once monoculture lawn and cost approximately $2,000 annually to maintain.
[Volunteers plant native in the Dimple at Wolf Trap. Credit: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts]

Figure 4. In April 2012 more than 100 volunteers helped transform the Dimple into a native meadow when they planted 21,000 vegetative plugs.

[Native planted meadow shown after its second growing season. Credit: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts]

Figure 5. After its second growing season in fall 2013, the native meadow shows its colors.

The native garden, wildflower meadow, and Wolf Trap Trail attracted attention and interest almost immediately. Park visitors and area residents quickly volunteered to help with manual labor, and several highly skilled natural resource professionals also volunteered their services. Rather than de fining research projects and then looking for professional scientists to carry them out, the park attracted the scientists and volunteers first and then used their expertise to address park needs. Since then, the park has added a cadre of trained volunteers, and the network of contacts the park has made with local and national partners has continued to grow.

Inventories take shape

Sheryl Pollock is a retired field biologist from the U.S. Geological Survey who began visiting the park to photograph insects in the native meadow. Her interest quickly evolved into a more ambitious project to photograph and identify all insects and native flora in the park. Ms. Pollock has taken thousands of photographs at Wolf Trap and uploads her pictures to an online photo-sharing service along with notes on species identifications. Her work pro vides a photographic record of particular species on specific dates in the park. Her efforts, in conjunction with other surveys, will help to update the park’s official NPSpecies list, which documents the occurrence and status of species on National Park Service lands.

What started as a hobby for Ms. Pollock developed into the launching of an All- Taxa Biodiversity Inventory at Wolf Trap in 2013. Teaming up with USGS wildlife biologist Sam Droege, Ms. Pollock now aids park staff in collection and processing of bee species. Mr. Droege graciously volunteers his time to identify the bees as we work to generate a baseline of pollinator species in the park. The work also informs Mr. Droege’s larger study of native bees in the Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware region. The survey, which started in July 2013, resulted in identification of 37 pollinating bee species, and we expect to tally many more with a full field season of work in 2014.

Since beginning the bee survey, staff from the NCR Office of Natural Resource Science have suggested that we expand our work to include Lepidoptera and have recommended that we team up with entomologist and private contractor Nathan Erwin, former curator of the Smithsonian Insect Zoo. Mr. Erwin conducted multiple training sessions to teach volunteers how to identify various species of butterflies and to prepare them to carry out a butter fly inventory of the park. We identified 32 species in 2013 and, although 2014 surveys have gotten off to a slow start as a result of poor weather conditions, we hope to exceed last year’s species count with the longer survey season. Volunteers meet every other week to document butterfly sightings.

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia also has taken an interest in the park. Learning that Wolf Trap had no comprehensive bird list, they have been working with park staff for more than a year to document park birds. Nearly 30 Audubon volunteers divided the park into quadrants and, thanks to the new trail, are able to access the entire park, identifying birds and monitoring their densities. They regularly upload their findings to the online eBird .org database and have identified more than 100 bird species in the park.

An amazing transformation

In just five years since park staff exchanged a small area of lawn for native plants, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts has instituted a vibrant, public participation–oriented natural resource program. Although the park still does not have a natural resource manager, an energized grounds crew and other workers enthusiastically tell visitors about park biodiversity and the volunteer program of biodiversity inventories. In addition to the bird and butterfly surveys, bee and other pollinator bioblitzes, and photo documentation of park flora and fauna, the park has added four forest monitoring plots, begun to monitor water quality in Wolf Trap Creek, and established “no-mow” zones and native plant areas. The Inventory and Monitoring network is now engaged in population monitoring of deer and control of destructive infestations of oriental bittersweet and English ivy in highly visible park areas. We also have developed relationships with several organizations for obtaining free or reduced-price supplies for incorporating native plants into the park scene.

Interpretive projects have also blossomed, so to speak. We are developing scientifically accurate interpretive signage about the park’s natural resources and now provide tours of the native gardens and meadow areas. The park’s Web site and Facebook page feature a “plant of the week” along with information about its natural history. Finally, we have developed a Web-based climate change–monitoring station online where citizen scientists can post photos and related observations of changes in seasonal timing of periodic bio logical events. Thus citizen science at Wolf Trap is contributing to a larger understanding of phenology at the landscape level.

All the natural resource projects and related achievements have been accomplished without a dedicated natural resource management position or a natural resource management budget. The program owes its existence to the ideas, energy, support, and work of maintenance and interpretive staffs, the park’s superintendent and volunteer coordinator, summer interns, college students, the Youth Conservation Corps, volunteer groups and individual volunteers, private foundations and local businesses, and the NPS National Capital Region. As a result, natural resource management has established a strong foothold at Wolf Trap, and the park now has an expanded audience, not just for the traditional theater and music offerings but also for the natural resources and recreational values of this special suburban park.

About the author

Christopher Schuster ( is a gardener with Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia. He has a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and coordinates many of the resource management activities at the park.

Bird diversity reflects battlefield park’s natural setting

By Bryan Gorsira

[Northern bobwhite quail. Credit: NPS Photo/Bryan Gorsira]

Northern bobwhite quail at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The decline of grassland birds has been called the conservation crisis of the 21st century (Brennan and Kuvlesky 2005). It is estimated that since the mid-1800s, grassland ecosystems in North America have declined by 80%. In Virginia, idle grasslands have been reduced by an estimated 55% since 1945. Recent analysis of the Bull Run watershed, which encompasses the park, indicates that nearly 10,000 acres (4,050 ha) have been developed since 2002. Understanding the importance of grasslands to regional conservation, natural resource managers at Manassas National Battlefield Park have been actively managing park grasslands since 1997 by converting more than 1,000 acres (405 ha) from nonnative cool-season grasses to native warm-season grasses. The native grasses function better as sources of food and cover for wildlife, stabilize the soil, are drought tolerant, and require very little maintenance. Yet they retain the character and overall appearance that are important for historical interpretation of the battlefield. These converted grasslands offset some of the development in the area by providing a refuge for resident and migratory breeding birds like the northern bobwhite quail, prairie warbler, and other grassland species.

Annual Audubon Northern Virginia bird survey counts at Manassas have been held every year in June and July since 1995 and follow a standardized point-count methodology to closely monitor and assess bird populations and trends. Whereas bird counts have noted a decline in several species throughout the country, no significant changes in species numbers or composition have been detected at Manassas from 1995 to 2009. This analysis helps to confirm the importance of this park for birds. In addition, the park was recently nominated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, based primarily on the quality of the park’s grasslands. The park supports some of the best examples of grassland and shrubland habitat types in the region, with healthy populations of eastern meadowlark, grasshopper spar row, field sparrow, prairie warbler, brown thrasher, and eastern towhee—all species of conservation concern in Virginia.

Manassas National Battlefield Park is an example of how a relatively small national park (around 5,000 acres, or 2,023 ha), and one established for cultural and historical purposes, can make a significant contribution to regional biodiversity. Of the 18 migratory species listed in 2008 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as regional birds of conservation concern, 9 occur in the park. Manassas supports more than 160 bird species, 54 of which are confirmed breeders, and more than half of those are migratory. In addition, nearly 50 butterfly species, more than 200 moth species, and approximately 700 vascular plants have been documented in the park. Last year’s grasslands survey documented 51 bird species, 12 butterfly species, representatives of five bee genera, and 49 plant species. Ten of the birds observed were of regional conservation concern and three of continental concern. As more and more parks take part in biodiversity discovery activities throughout the National Park System, we will gain a clearer picture of the impor tance of “cultural” parks like Manassas to preserving native biodiversity.

Literature cited

Brennan, L. A., and W. P. Kuvlesky, Jr. 2005. North American grassland birds: An unfolding conservation crisis? Journal of Wildlife Management 69(1):1–13.

About the author

Bryan Gorsira ( is a wildlife biologist and Natural Resource Program manager at Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia.

Biodiversity discovery: Exploring arthropods in two NPS national monuments

By Jennifer Leasor, Amy Muraca, Rijk Moräwe, and Neil Cobb

Science is showing that parks that are thought of primarily as repositories for the nation’s historical and cultural heritage should not be overlooked when it comes to biodiversity. George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia, and Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona, are two such parks. Both national monuments were part of the Inventory and Monitoring Program established by the National Park Service in 1992 to assist the 270 parks with significant natural resources assess and document the condition of those resources. Inventory and monitoring efforts have been ongoing, and recently Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the National Park Service have partnered to explore arthropods in these two parks as part of “Biodiversity Discovery.” Biodiversity Discovery refers to multiple efforts of the National Park Service to explore and document our natural heritage that often focus on smaller life-forms such as arthropods. Biodiversity Discovery activities, like previous Inventory and Monitoring efforts, are helping to uncover the vast diversity of life found in these national monuments.

George Washington Birthplace

George Washington Birthplace National Monument is a 550-acre (223 ha) colonial site on the Potomac River that encompasses a wide range of habitats, including hardwood forests, pine plantations, open meadows, brackish marsh, estuaries, coasts, freshwater ponds, and swamps. This natural environment supported an agrarian society in the mid-17th century that persists today as a fairly intact rural economy. In 2009 the partnership began an effort as part of the Biodiversity Discovery to develop an All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) program for the monument, which built upon several previous small-scale bioblitzes, or rapid inventories. The creation of an integrated ATBI program, which is to be completed before the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, has three objectives: (1) increase by 10-fold the monument’s biodiversity inventory, (2) involve at least 30 schools and universities in ATBI research, and (3) involve and train at least 50 volunteers in carrying out this scientific program.

The partnership at the national monument included outreach to local schools, professionals, and partners through activities such as presentations and a “birding weekend.” However, NAU scientists focused on documenting what Dr. E. O. Wilson, the eminent American biologist and leading authority on ants, has called the “microwilderness,” or the world of tiny creatures. General insect surveys at George Washington Birthplace conducted in 2008, 2009, and 2012 have so far documented some 377 species of arthropods, with more identifications expected as the process continues. For example, the inventory identified 144 species of Coleoptera (beetles) (figs. 1 and 2), 105 species of Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, and bees), and 33 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies). Citizen scientists such as the Northern Neck Master Naturalists, who participated in several bioblitzes in an attempt to document the arthropod biodiversity found in the national monument, were critical to the work. Currently, George Washington Birthplace National Monument has a permanent collection of approximately 3,000 arthropod specimens on-site that are sorted by taxonomic order.

[Photo of pinned ivory-spotted longhorn beetle. Credit: Collection of Northern Arizona University/Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity. Credit: Collection of Northern Arizona University/Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity]

Figure 1. The ivory-spotted longhorn (Eburia quadrigeminata) beetle is one of the species collected, imaged, and cataloged during a bioblitz conducted at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia, through a partnership with Northern Arizona University. This beetle spends most of its lifetime feeding inside hardwood trees and can live up to 40 years.

[A researchers users a net to sweep a tree for insects. Credit: Northern Arizona University/Christian Clark]

Figure 2. Northern Arizona University researchers used sweep nets to collect arthropod specimens at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia. It is expected that 500 arthropod species will be documented when the specimen-identification process is complete.

Pipe Spring biodiversity

Established in 1923, Pipe Spring National Monument is located in Mohave County, Arizona, surrounded by the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. This 40-acre (16 ha) park commemorates the area’s rich Native American culture and Mormon pioneer heritage. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the monument preserves archaeological sites, historical structures, and Pipe Spring, a year-round source of water. The monument’s natural springs are one of the few persistent water sources in this arid strip of desert situated between Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, creating a small riparian ecosystem. Archaeological evidence indicates that springs have attracted people to the monument area for the past 8,000 years. Documented biodiversity of the monument includes at least 48 mammal species, 166 bird species, 12 reptile species, and 3 amphibian species. A recent bat study (NPS and Southern Utah University) increased the number of bat species found at the monument to 18 of the 28 found in all of Arizona (Taylor et al. 2013). As of 2013, inventory efforts have documented 335 vascular plant taxa for the monument, and the herbarium has vouchers for 275 (82%) of these species.

In 2012, park resource managers initiated an arthropod inventory, as arthropods represent a significant portion of the food base for vertebrate species, particularly the numerous bat and bird species that winter and breed on the monument. Additionally, very little was known about the monument’s native arthropod populations and exotic species and their potential to affect native species and habitats. Northern Arizona University was asked to collect arthropod specimens; provide training in the collection and storage of the specimens to park staff, volunteers, and members of the neighboring Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians; create a reference collection for the monument; and develop a database to ensure that cataloged specimens would be available online. Standard insect-collecting techniques, including nets, malaise and pitfall traps, and night lights, were used during the summers of 2012 and 2013 to collect more than 8,000 specimens of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates (fig. 3). Specimens are now being identified, imaged, and cataloged using state-of-the-art software that produces high-resolution images, allowing scientists across the country to access the collection online for research purposes.

[Photo of researcher examining pitfall trap beneath a tree for ground-dwelling arthropods. Credit: NPS Photo/Kody Callister]

Figure 3. Park staff used pitfall traps to collect ground-dwelling arthropods, including beetles, ants, and spiders, at Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona. In the summers of 2012 and 2013, pitfall traps and other standard methods were used to collect more than 8,000 specimens of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.

Clearly, historical and cultural parks of all sizes are important to documenting and preserving the nation’s biodiversity. In the case of arthropods, we are just beginning to understand how little we know about these tiny creatures and the roles they play in natural systems. Arthropods may be the next frontier of discovering biodiversity. As efforts at George Washington Birthplace and Pipe Spring National Monuments illustrate, the NPS Biodiversity Discovery program has created opportunities for national parks to work with partners, engage volunteers, and focus on smaller life-forms to document the diversity of life found in the microwilderness.


Taylor, J. R., A. Bornemeier, A. Alfen, and C. Jack. 2013. Bat research and interpretive programming: Increasing public interest in Pipe Spring National Monument. Park Science 30(1):14–19. Available at http://

About the authors

Jennifer Leasor is curator at Pipe Spring National Monument. Amy Muraca is museum curator at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Stone National Historic Site. Rijk Moräwe is chief, Natural and Cultural Resources Management, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Neil Cobb ( is director, Merriam- Powell Center of Environmental Research, Northern Arizona University.


Cameras and cell phones at the bioblitz

By the Editor

Photography has long been used as a tool for wildlife documentation, identification, and education. More recently, however, it is being coupled with communications such as those made possible by cell phone technology and wireless Internet (WiFi). Mobile phone cameras are the norm, and nature observation “apps” are increasingly being developed for smartphones and tablets, which facilitate natural history observations and reporting. Photo-hosting Web sites such as are popular for involving citizen scientists in the assembly of photo collections and nature observation libraries, though collection curators with specialized knowledge are still a necessity to confirm observations. In national parks associated with population centers, bioblitz participants who have preregistered with a host Web site and installed the corresponding app may be able to take and upload photos and observations directly from the field to a predetermined photo gallery or database for later study. In parks where WiFi or cell phone service is not easily accessible or when photos need subsequent processing, these records can be shared when participants return home. Technical challenges come with the territory, of course, but the digital devices that park visitors commonly carry now make it possible for them to more easily contribute their skills to the study of park biota. As we report below (and on pages 22 and 51), park staffs have begun to explore ways to engage this next generation of park stewards through the use of these technologies and to evaluate the scientific robustness of this information.

On the following pages we also profile several parks that are using remotely operated cameras to survey wildlife and environmental conditions. This mechanism is versatile in how and where it can be employed, and techniques for analyzing the vast number of photos that result are rapidly improving. Data derived from the pictures can be used to estimate wildlife populations, and the images themselves document wildlife behavior. Compared with traditional surveys, this camera technology also reduces costs and human disturbance while increasing chances of documenting highly secretive species. Protocols are available to help users design and deploy such systems, which have potential for wildlife community monitoring at the landscape level. Several parks have received funding from the Biological Resource Management Division to launch wildlife camera projects later this year and in 2015.

—Jeff Selleck (
Vermont Atlas of Life Field Days

National park

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park


20 July and 29 September 2013, and 19 July 2014


Digital technology to contribute natural history observations to online databases

Key partners

• Vermont Center for Ecostudies (advertising, coordination, presentations)

• NPS–Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (funding through the Call to Action initiative item 7: “Next Generation Stewards,” ONPS 2014)


The Vermont Atlas of Life is an online repository of state biodiversity knowledge. It was conceived to harness and coordinate independent surveys conducted by naturalists, scientists, state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations. The initial events—Vermont Atlas of Life Field Days—were hosted at Marsh-Billings- Rockefeller NHP to demonstrate the feasibility of using citizen scientists to catalog park and state biodiversity. A follow-up event in 2014 ran under the moniker “bioblitz.” It attracted more visitors and resulted in more observations than the 2013 events.


Staff made presentations on how to obtain and use iNaturalist and eBird accounts, status of databases, bumble bee identification, and the value of citizen science to research. Individual field walks were conducted on birds, ferns, trees, wildflowers, aquatic invertebrates, bumble bees, dragonflies and damselflies, and moths. Participants contributed their own nature sightings to the Vermont Atlas of Life in real time and after the events. Most observations were of live animals or vegetation, though some invertebrates were collected for later identification, and were made with cameras, sound recorders, and field notes.

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