Microbes mediate nearly all biogeochemical cycles, yet our understanding of microbial distribution is still nascent. Advances in molecular techniques, especially metabarcoding, has drastically improved our ability to assess the diversity of microbes in situ. BioBlitz are a blend of data collection and public science communication through interaction with scientists as they collect specimens in an urban or suburban ecosystem. We collected samples for bacterial community analysis in Weir Farm National Historic Site (suburban ecosystem) and in the greater Hartford CT (urban ecosystem) area with primary focus around Three Rivers Middle School which is built on reclaimed industrial land. In both sites we collected duplicate samples from a transect perpendicular to a water body; deep and shallow water and corresponding sediment, wetted soil, and dry soil. Students from Three Rivers Middle School were involved in planning and executing the sampling plan. DNA was extracted then bacterial 16S v4 was amplified and sequenced at the University of Connecticut MARS facility.
We recovered bacterial community data for 122 samples. Species richness (97% OTUs) ranged from 300 in some of the deep water samples to over 3000 in the sediment and soils. There were no overarching trends in alpha diversity between the urban and suburban sample transects, but some sample types did show differences in alpha diversity (i.e. dry suburban soils had lower diversity than dry urban soils, but wetted soils showed no difference in alpha diversity between urban and suburban). Beyond the species observations, we also interacted with several distinct groups of nonscientists. The middle school students had the most exposure to the microbial communities through exercises involving them in planning the experiments. They saw the variety of microbial communities surrounding them and the variability between microbial communities along short transects. At Weir Farm NHS, we were able to educate park resource personnel on a different type of biodiversity than they typically consider. Also on the day of the BioBlitz at Weir Farm, we guided the general public on a nature walk discussing the bacterial diversity all around us. Addition of microbial diversity into a BioBlitz is a potentially potent avenue for increasing scientific literacy and expanding scientific knowledge of local environments.