Over the last few days we ran a successful ecoblitz at St Peters School in Cambridge. How does an ecoblitz differ from the more common bioblitz, I hear you ask? In a bioblitz we arrive at a location and try to record all of the biodiversity at that site, typically over 24 hours and with the public dropping by to watch. The goal is generally to show that there are hundreds of species living at a sight, usually one that is visited by the public. An ecoblitz is a different beast. The goal of the ecoblitz is to find out what is at a site but uses sampling methodology and has the goal of providing baseline data for future sampling events. The ecoblitz is not focused on finding everything in an area but rather in being able to monitor the decline or increase in populations over time. So the goal is more focused on training locals in good data collection methods than impressing them about our abilities.
The ecoblitz team consisted of biologists from the Department of Ecology at Lincoln University (mostly), NIWA, Te Papa, University of Waikato and Wildlands. We also had several undergraduate ecology students. St Peters is a secondary school at Cambridge on the banks of the Waikato River. It is a large campus area with an attached dairy farm. They have areas of wetland restoration, a decent kahikatea stand, and even a wild gully or two. Students from the school were divided into groups and on the first day they rotated around sites where they learnt how to monitor different taxonomic groups (vertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates, plants, fresh water invertebrates as well as environmental DNA sampling). In the evening there were modules on night sampling (including of bats). On the second day the students spent the morning at a site doing thorough collections of 10 m x 10 m plots to collect/identify all that they could find. The afternoon was spent in sorting and identifying what they found.
I helped to run the vertebrate module. We focused on birds (doing 5 minute bird counts) and mammals (tracking tunnels, wax tags and trail cameras). Our kids then did some five minute bird counts and helped to ink and bait the tracking tunnels and staple in the wax tags. We then left the devices overnight and collected them in the next day. So what did we find?
First up, we found that we were working with a wonderful group of passionate high school teens. We put them through some long hours over a couple of days and they never ceased to work hard and ask hard, insightful questions. Also, our undergraduates seemed to relish the opportunity of putting their training into practice and to be interacting with the public. They were a credit to our university. Second, in the vertebrate module the birds found during the counts were the usual suspects that we get in highly modified systems comprising mostly introduced songbirds like skylarks (who put on some wonderful displays), various finches, mynahs, and blackbirds. At least most of them were in their breeding plumage and were looking splendid. There were also a few more interesting species like kingfishers, black shags, tui and a very pale harrier. Third, all sites showed evidence of mice (lots of footprints left behind) and most had rats (gnaw marks on the wax tags). Hedgehogs were common. Our cameras also recorded rats and several birds as well. In our spotlighting during the evening we found several possums, a long-tailed bat and an introduced Australian frog species. Our colleagues in the other taxon groups found reasonable diversity of invertebrates and plants which will continue to be analysed.
A good time was had by all. We established some baseline data for future monitoring, gave some biodiversity monitoring training to the next generation and came away feeling recharged after seeing the excitement generated by everyone, kids and adults, at the ecoblitz. We aim to have a follow-up ecoblitz at St Peters in a couple of years with students from other schools in the region. I can’t wait!