A BioBlitz within the national park system is a 24-hour species identification event, where citizens and scientists come together to learn about the biodiversity of an area. BioBlitzes began on a small scale 20 years ago, and in celebration of the Park Service Centennial, over 250 BioBlitzes occurred throughout the country over 2016. BioBlitz events tried, as a whole, to connect local students and citizens to the intricacies of their ecosystems (through massive inventories) and the researchers who were studying them (by working directly with scientists for their research). The focus for RMSSN’s student-led BioBlitz was on pollinators and their changes and interactions with the National Parks. Students from the Rocky Mountain Sustainability and Science Network (RMSSN) worked in conjunction with the BioBlitzes initially as technology leaders—assisting scientists in their species identification records through an application called iNaturalist—and later helped as taxonomy leaders, who created species guides through iNaturalist and helped with the identification of insects, arachnids, plants, and other species across the NPS. The methods of RMSSN’s students were similar to those of other researchers collecting at the the BioBlitz: collecting specimens, taking clear, identifiable photos of specimen, and uploading these “observations” to a project created for the Parks on iNaturalist. In the end, guides created following this method can be helpful in updating the Park Service species list.
In conjunction with the celebration of the Park Service Centennial on August 25, 2016, RMSSN submitted a final report to the NPS Biological Resources division regarding the BioBlitzes attended by the students of RMSSN. This report contained commentary and conclusions about the effectiveness of the BioBlitzes in discovering biodiversity and engaging student-citizens in science. Part of the analysis included a discussion on iNaturalist, the primary application for the BioBlitzes. The report concedes that while iNaturalist has its flaws, the final species count for the team was 192 observations uploaded and 92 species identified, a significant taxa number for a student participation group in the BioBlitzes. While Park Service BioBlitzes are not set to continue in the future, BioBlitz funding is continuing for the next five years through a NSF grant affiliated with the Colorado State University Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and RMSSN. Diverse groups of students will continue to be immersed in Park Service fieldwork, work on improving iNaturalist data, and seeing the connection between the ecosystems and species.