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

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Partners matter

The overarching enterprise of biodiversity conservation is beyond the scope of any single entity. Preservation of biodiversity and our natural heritage needs to take place not only in our national parks but also in our citizens’ hearts and minds. We believe that the NPS mission to pass on park resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations, along with the array of implications from the loss of biological diversity, requires the Park Service to undertake leadership and teamwork at spatial scales larger than parks, and in step with partners who may share in this mission. Capturing the public’s mind and soul means engaging people wherever they are, whether it be in national parks, vital private natural areas, or their own backyards. Parks are embedded in larger regional and continental landscapes (National Park System Advisory Board 2012), and thus we propose that partnerships with organizations that are working to protect and restore at-risk species and ecosystem biodiversity on private lands are vital to the National Park Service mission. Nonprofits such as the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (, Encyclopedia of Life (, and Discover Life in America ( are building much-needed capacity for biodiversity discovery and conservation; they can act as conveners, anchoring a driving focus on the importance of biodiversity field research and education, and the use of our parks as classrooms for learning, involvement, and caring. By working together to build a broad and authentic grassroots community of people who have a deep and personal experience of nature—who explore and participate in the science of biodiversity and the practice of global biodiversity conservation—we can encourage a public citizenry who understands how the complex and intricate web of biodiversity supports the fabric of our lives and who, through that knowledge, begins to seed this understanding into our cultural DNA and the way we engage with the living world.

Purpose matters

How to serve both humanity and the rest of life is the great challenge of the modern era. That is the reality of the natural world we are trying to save in national parks and other reserves. These final sanctuaries are our transcendent heritage and we will be wise to hold on to them. We can enjoy surviving fragments of nature in various ways and measures. Let us all first take constant pleasure from the surprise, mystery, awe, wholeness, and redemption they offer. Deeper still, let us hold on to a sense of the eternal, which is latent in wildlands. These special places provide hope for the immortality of life as a whole, freed of human cares and intervention (Wilson 2014).

In the not too distant future, we will look back and recognize that sometime near the transition to the 21st century, biodiversity became one of the defining characteristics of the American experience. For the National Park Service mission, for national park relevance, and perhaps for the insights herein, it is imperative for the National Park Service, without hesitation, to undertake leadership and commit to the enduring journey of biodiversity discovery and conservation with our stakeholders and partners, along with all the accompanying aspirations and consequences.

Literature cited

Chivian, E., and A. Bernstein, editors. 2008. Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Oxford University Press, New York, New York, USA. 542 pp.

National Park Service. 2006. Management policies. National Park Service, Washington, D.C., USA.

———. 2014. Summary of species new to park species lists and public participation via park biodiversity discovery activities, 1999–2014. Unpublished information on file. National Park Service, Biological Resource Management Division, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA.

National Park System Advisory Board. 2012. Revisiting Leopold: Resource stewardship in the national parks. A report of the National Park System Advisory Board Science Committee. 23 pp.

Wilson, E. O. 2014. A window on eternity: A biologist’s walk through Gorongosa. Simon and Schuster, New York, New York, USA. 149 pp.

About the authors

Glenn Plumb ( is chief wildlife biologist with the National Park Service, Biological Resource Management Division, Fort Collins, Colorado. Edward O. Wilson ( is with the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sally Plumb ( is biodiversity coordinator, National Park Service, Biological Resource Management Division, Fort Collins, Colorado. Paula J. Ehrlich ( is president and chief executive officer of the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, Durham, North Carolina.


Ben Clark, Biodiversity Youth Ambassador

By Sally Plumb

[Photo of Ben Clark. Credit: Dawn Pilotti, St. Ann Academy]

Ben Clark collects a patent-leather beetle at the 2013 NPS-NGS BioBlitz at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

Through pouring rain in the redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument, 14-year-old Ben Clark is grinning from ear to ear. He is participating in a predatory beetle inventory during the 2014 National Park Service–National Geo graphic Society (NGS) BioBlitz at the parks geographically associated with Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California).

Ben is an NPS Biodiversity Youth Ambassador. Initiated in 2010, the ambassador program has the mission of cultivating youth leadership that inspires next-generation environmental stewards in schools and communities. To date, five ambassadors have been selected by the host parks of the NPS-NGS BioBlitzes, while a sixth, Ben, was selected by the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate.

Ben’s interest in biodiversity began during the 2011 Rocky Mountain National Park BioBlitz. While looking for amphibians in an alpine pond, Ben found a damselfly larva and learned that it was not native to the area. He became fascinated with the question of how it came to be there. In Ben’s words, “It was that one little fly that opened my eyes to biodiversity.”

Since that time, Ben’s work to further biodiversity awareness has been inspiring. While attending the 2013 bioblitz at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Louisiana, he was selected as an interviewee in a minidocumentary by the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, Inspired by Nature ( At his school, St. Ann Academy, Ben helped implement a schoolwide bioblitz at a local estuary, with an accompanying biodiversity festival featuring exhibits on the biodiversity of 38 national parks. This growing awareness of biodiversity resulted in 42 students, parents, and teachers traveling from Ben’s home community of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to participate in the Golden Gate BioBlitz. Ben was recently selected as an “Everyday Young Hero” by Youth Service America, an organization that engages young people to change the world and that sponsors Global Youth Service Day, the largest volunteer event in the world.

Sally Plumb: Why is biodiversity important?

Ben Clark: Biodiversity is important because it is the life and world we live in. So the more we learn and discover about biodiversity, the better we can improve the quality of human life.

SP: Why is it so important for youth today to connect with nature?

BC: “Youth” means the next generation, so if we can get them excited and enthusiastic about learning and conserving biodiversity, the better we can conserve it and the better we can control what we’re doing.

SP: You’ve participated in several bioblitzes. Which was your favorite and why?

BC: My favorite bioblitz was the 2014 Golden Gate BioBlitz because when I was there, I learned more about how the ecosystem and the organisms in the eco system interact with each other to sustain the environment. And I found that really fascinating and really interesting—and I really liked learning about that.

SP: As a Biodiversity Youth Ambassador, what have you done to promote interest and awareness of biodiversity?

BC: As a Biodiversity Youth Ambassador, my friends and teachers and I organized a school bioblitz to promote youth involvement in biodiversity and to get youth excited about it. Change begins with one. At home in Connecticut, there are now 250 students waiting for the second annual school bioblitz. Just imagine how many people can be inspired by 250 students!

About the author

Sally Plumb ( is biodiversity coordinator, National Park Service, Biological Resource Management Division, Fort Collins, Colorado. She can be reached at

Inventory and monitoring of park biodiversity

By William Monahan and Kirsten Gallo

[Photo of Bewick’s wren perched on a rock. Credit: USFWS/Dave Menke; NCTC Image Library]

Bewick’s wren

The NPS Inventory And Monitoring Program (I&M) was established in 1992 to develop a scientific understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that shape the overall “health” or condition of park resources occurring in more than 270 national parks. The primary purpose of the program is to deliver to parks the science needed to manage their natural resources, beginning with 12 basic inventories (

• Natural resource bibliography (IRMA Data Store)

• Base cartography

• Air quality

• Air quality–related values

• Climate

• Geologic resources

• Soil resources

• Water body location and classification (including wells)

• Baseline water quality

• Vegetation (vascular plants)

• Species lists (NPSpecies)

• Species occurrence and distribution of vascular plants, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles

While certain inventories such as base line water quality (benthic macroinver tebrates), vegetation, and species lists directly inform our understanding of bio diversity in parks, others, such as climate, geology, and soils, are central to understanding the environments and processes that have led to diversification. Thus, both the biotic and abiotic components of the 12 natural resource inventories contribute to our growing body of knowledge of park biodiversity.

The inventories have shaped our understanding of biodiversity and facilitated its discovery in parks across the country. The Kahuku plant inventory at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park discovered a total of 455 vascular plant species, including 5 endangered species and 26 locally rare, native species. During vegetation mapping at the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia), 75 distinct plant communities were documented within the park, of which 24 are considered globally rare and 7 are considered globally imperiled. Herpetological surveys at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan) revealed 4 new species of reptiles and amphibians. At Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey) and Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (Pennsylvania and New York), several species of fishes that were previously considered to be rare or uncertain are now known to be relatively widespread in the two parks, and another very rare species (the bridle shiner, Notropis bifrenatus; see photo) was discovered at several new sites. A bird species thought to be extirpated from Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Georgia and Tennessee (Bewick’s wren, Thryomanes bewickii) was (re)discovered breeding, providing the first such evidence in the re gion since the early 1980s. At Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho), pika (Ochotona princeps) were detected at several historical (recolonized) and many new locations.

[Illustration of the bridle shiner]

Bridle shiner

Credit: This image was prepared by Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp as part of the 1927–1940 New York Biological Survey conducted by the Conservation Department (the predecessor to today’s New York State Department of Environmental Conservation). Permission for its use is granted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Monitoring and biodiversity

Our knowledge and understanding of park biodiversity continue to grow beyond the inventories through long-term monitoring that tracks the health of park resources. More than 30 major categories of natural resources and indicators are monitored nationally by the I&M Program. Monitoring results routinely include the documentation of new species and, in some cases, rediscovery of species we thought were lost. For example, bird monitoring in the Southwest adds, on average, five new species of birds to park species lists each year. Two species of bats and a lady-slipper orchid, all listed as critically imperiled by NatureServe, were documented in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee and Kentucky). Two species not seen in parks in more than 30 years have been documented through monitoring: spadefoot toad in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) and a freshwater sponge in Rock Creek Park (Washington, D.C.). Species identification for the sponge is pending.

Monitoring has helped document changes in biodiversity and why the changes have occurred. For example, stream monitoring conducted by the Rocky Mountain I&M Network and other collaborative stream sampling efforts in and around Glacier National Park (Montana) have resulted in the discovery of 26 new-to-science species of diatoms from Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Diatoms are important bioindicators that reflect water quality conditions. The Great Lakes I&M Network sampled about 60 sites across network parks. Results show that many of the lakes, especially those that are shallow, are experiencing rapid changes in diatom species composition. Sediment cores collected from at least one lake in most of this network’s parks reflect water quality conditions for the past 150–200 years. Biological changes from the 1970s to 1980s, as reflected by diatom composition, are best explained by changes in climate rather than land use. Water temperature monitoring will help determine the extent to which climate change is driving changes in diatoms and water quality.

By focusing on the highest-priority measurements of park resource condition, I&M results and findings provide early warning of situations that require management intervention. This contribution to management is attainable without a fully comprehensive understanding of park biodiversity because species have interactions and dependencies both within and among park ecosystems. National Park Service and National Geographic Society BioBlitzes thus complement the Inventory and Monitoring Program by expanding our knowledge of the biological resources in parks. For example, nonvascular plants and invertebrates are two groups of taxa considered by bioblitzes that have not been systematically inventoried. Bioblitzes can help parks understand the diversity, distribution, and abundance of these taxa, along with others such as fungi and microbes. Knowledge gained through park bioblitzes adds to our inventories and, as with all science, bioblitzes help identify and highlight questions for future study. NPSpecies is the centralized NPS resource for archiving and curating these observations in support of future science.

About the authors

William Monahan is an ecologist with the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Division in Fort Collins, Colorado. Kirsten Gallo is chief of the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Division in Fort Collins, Colorado. They can be reached at and
Data management for National Park Service– National Geographic Society BioBlitzes

Evolving biodiversity documentation

By Peter Budde and Simon Kingston

[Sidebar: Bioblitz

A bioblitz is commonly a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. The National Geographic Society is helping conduct a bioblitz in a different national park each year during the decade leading up to the U.S. National Park Service centennial in 2016.2

Bioblitz events provide an opportunity for more than the enhancement of a park’s NPSpecies inventory. The buildup to an NPSNGS BioBlitz requires coordination by invited scientists who have been identified as being able to increase the understanding of often lesser-known taxonomic groups. Additionally, more than 3,000 people, including more than 1,500 schoolchildren, typically participate in a bioblitz and the concurrent biodiversity festival.]

The National Park Service (NPS) and the National Geographic Society (NGS) have cohosted eight annual national park bioblitzes since their inception in 2007. Over time the methods and tools used to manage data from these events have evolved. Spreadsheets may have given way to smartphones and other mobile devices, but one constant has been the use of NPSpecies (, the centralized data application that documents the occurrence and status of species in national parks. NPSpecies provides a baseline of the species known to occur in a park and reflects the new knowledge gained from bioblitzes and other forms of scientific inquiry.

Information stored and managed in NPSpecies satisfies a fundamental purpose of the National Park Service to protect and maintain biological diversity in parks. Park managers, interpreters, planners, and scientists need basic information about species occurring in parks as a basis for making decisions and for working with the public, other agencies, and the scientific community.

Data management for NPS-NGS BioBlitzes occurs in three distinct stages: the pre-bioblitz buildup, the rush of activity during the bioblitz itself, and the post-bioblitz follow-up (fig. 1). Each stage has its own set of activities, but common themes are links to NPSpecies and quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) steps that are taken to ensure the most reliable data possible are recorded and made available.

The buildup (pre-bioblitz)

Preparation for managing data at an NPSNGS BioBlitz involves determining the local contact (typically the Inventory and Monitoring Network data manager), de signing field data sheets (fig. 2, page 22), eliciting the types of questions park staff would like to be able to answer as a result of the event, designing and developing the data entry and reporting application, and writing procedures and workflows to be used during the bioblitz.


The goal of NPSpecies is to be the authoritative source of species that occur in a park; however, many park species lists were last updated and reviewed during a certification process that occurred several years ago. Before the bioblitz, in order to make sure that a park’s species list reflects the current state of knowledge for organ isms that occur in a park, species records from inventories, incidental observations, and research activities must be reviewed and added. In addition, the taxonomic nomenclature often needs to be updated to reflect the latest science. Once this is complete, the final step is to update the records to indicate how certain the park is that an organism occurs in the park.


In order to prevent errors from making their way into species lists from bioblitz-collected data, we take several quality assurance steps. This includes crafting a standardized field data sheet for use by all registered scientists, standardizing the taxonomy for all species lists, and requiring that species marked as “present” in a park are substantiated by evidence (e.g., voucher specimens or detailed observations). At this stage we also decide upon the observation-tracking method to be used, and further design and develop it as necessary. Once we have developed a field data sheet and decided on an observation-tracking method, we draft standard operating procedures, including detailed instructions, for their use.

[Circular diagram with four quadrants showing the cycle of data management]



– Make sure “present” taxa are substantiated by evidence (observations, vouchers, and references)

– Craft field data sheet

– Design, develop, and update BioBlitz data-tracking application

Evolution of the BioBlitz Tracking Application

– From MS Access–only application to MS Access on top of SQL Server to online/mobile open-sourced identifications


– Update NPSpecies list to make it current

During Bioblitz


– Match taxa names to a taxonomic standard

– Provide a standard field data sheet

– Match observation locations to park geospatial footprint

24 hours of BioBlitz

– Enter field data sheet information into BioBlitz application

– Provide counts of taxa found

– Highlight “new to park” discoveries

– Note confirmation of taxa that were previously uncertain


– Use NPSpecies as standard for what is in the park, highlighting those discoveries that are “new to park”



– Help park staff by highlighting uncertain taxa and requesting clarification from scientists, getting final identifications for specimens, and reviewing observations

Getting data into the Right “Buckets”

– ASMIS (voucher specimens)

IRMA observations

– IRMA vouchers



– Match taxa to IRMA taxonomy standard and current NPSpecies records

– Substantiate NPSpecies records with observation and voucher records


– Load new taxa discoveries into NPSpecies

– Update occurrence for observed species

NPS-NGS BioBlitz]

Figure 1. The data management life cycle of NPS-NGS BioBlitzes relies on NPSpecies as the standard for what species are known to be in a park and updates that standard with new discoveries after the bioblitz.

Evolution of the bioblitz observation-tracking tools

Getting started (2007)

Bioblitz participants used paper data sheets to note observations made in the field, which were then entered into an electronic spreadsheet. After transfer ring the data, the paper data sheets were discarded, making it impossible to check entries. The NPSpecies list was not used as a source for correct spelling of species names.

Getting relational (2008–2009)

Though the paper data sheets continued to be used in the field, we recognized the importance of the original field records and began to retain them following bioblitzes. Also, a participating network data manager developed a relational desktop database that replaced the spreadsheets and removed the need to reenter survey team information for every observation. Database forms allowed users to navigate through a menu system to look up official taxonomic names associated with the NPSpecies list for each park. By controlling these “pick lists” we avoided spelling errors and more easily saw when new species were added. Based on these improvements, we were able to provide counts of the number of different species found by taxonomic category (e.g., mammals, birds, vascular plants) during the bioblitz.

[Scanned image of the bioblitz field data entry sheet, which has several categories of information for species documentation purposes]

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