SEATTLE – Bleary-eyed botanists trudged along the trails of Washington Park Arboretum on Saturday in a quest for every tree, herb and escaped garden plant they could find that is not part of the official collection.
Some participants had been awake most of the night trying to identify samples gathered on Friday, when Seattle’s first bioblitz kicked off. A bioblitz is an intense, usually 24-hour effort to identify all the flora and fauna of a particular area. They run all night so that creatures such as night insects and bats can be counted.
At the arboretum, eagle sightings, salamanders and a rare stinging ant were recorded into handheld GPS devices that tallied up almost 400 species by the end of the blitz Saturday afternoon. Hundreds more entries are expected as scientists identify more spiders and insects that did not make the initial count.
The data will become part of the NatureMapping program, which began in Washington in the early ’90s and now includes other states attempting to chart their biodiversity.
Aside from its scientific value, the bioblitz could help protect parts of the arboretum from bombardment during construction of a new state Highway 520 bridge, said Paige Miller, executive director of the Washington Park Arboretum Foundation, which paid $4,000 to fund the bioblitz.
That cost does not include the time of about 100 volunteers, from high school students to retired professors, plus 20 employees of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, which includes the Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture.
“We can make sure the state knows about the diversity we have and what’s at risk, to do what we can to prevent the harm,” Miller said.
The idea for the bioblitz came from Sarah Reichard, a UW forestry services professor who is co-associate director of the UW Botanic Gardens. At a conference last year, someone mentioned doing a bioblitz in Yellowstone National Park, and she thought it would be a good idea for the arboretum.
Reichard, who studies invasive species, said the bioblitz found “things we didn’t know we had in Washington, much less here.” One example is an invasive honeysuckle species that she plans to mention to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, to which she is an adviser.