Bee on an iris

PELLSTON — During a three-day period in late July, the University of Michigan Biological Station hosted its first BioBlitz in 16 years to assess biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Scientists from across the country and families who live along Douglas Lake worked together to tally the living things that call this part of northern Michigan home.

“From all of us at UMBS, thank you to each and every person around Douglas Lake and across the U.S. who participated in our exciting BioBlitz,” said Dr. Aimée Classen, director of the U-M Biological Station and a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “You volunteered your time, boats and expertise and turned our effort into a major success. The diversity of species is spectacular and beautiful.”

Targeting aquatic life and shoreline species in and around Douglas Lake, the researchers and private citizens logged a total of 509 species Friday, July 21, to Sunday, July 23.

About 35% were plants, about 35% were insects and about 7% were fungi. Birds, mammals, amphibians, mollusks, diatoms and fish comprised the other 23%.

Some of the most observed species were Siberian Water Milfoil (31 observations), Swamp Milkweed (15), Yellow Perch (8) and the Common Loon (14).

The work was done by 60 observers, and their numerous team members, who made a total of 1,644 observations.

They found everything from smallmouth bass, Caspian terns and algae to water lilies, snakes and bald eagles. Volunteers also logged beavers, beetles, mudpuppies, muskrats and dragonflies.

“We used the iNaturalist app to make the BioBlitz accessible and fun for everyone from curious beginners to expert scientists,” said Adam Schubel, resident biologist at UMBS. “It’s a free, fun and powerful data and learning tool used by naturalists at all levels that includes astounding image recognition software — making it easy to record observations even if you don’t know exactly what plant or fish you’ve found.”

Schubel credits Dr. Susan Fawcett, a research botanist at the University of California, Berkeley and UMBS instructor, for leading and inspiring the iNaturalist participation.

“A Petoskey native and U-M alumna who now lives in East Jordan and Berkeley, California, Susan accumulated the most observations during the BioBlitz,” Schubel said.

UMBS is using the information gathered to build an online field guide in the fall that will serve as a community resource.

“The BioBlitz has been an awesome opportunity for the Biological Station to interact with our neighbors here on Douglas Lake and also scientists from our researcher community here as well as the Zoological Collections Museum on Main Campus,” said Dr. Helen Habicht, research coordinator and lab manager at UMBS.

UMBS partnered with the Douglas Lake Improvement Association, researchers at UMBS, the U-M Museum of Zoology and Herbarium and the State of Michigan EGLE for the event.

“The BioBlitz gave us the opportunity to bring experts from five divisions of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology — Plants, Insects, Mollusks, Fishes, and Amphibians and Reptiles — to help gather information about the diversity of plants and animals in Douglas Lake,” said Dr. Hernán López-Fernández, U-M associate professor, associate curator of fishes and associate chair for collections of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology museums.

“As environmental conditions on our planet change, it is critical to understand how those changes are affecting biodiversity, and that can only be done by continuously monitoring the presence and distribution of species through time. Collaborations between the Museums and UMBS, such as the BioBlitz, make this monitoring possible and gives us the opportunity to reach out to the community to showcase the diversity of life in their neighborhood.”

Scientists from nearly a dozen institutions across the country participated, including the University of Michigan, Bowling Green State University, Michigan State University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Loyola University Chicago, Texas A&M, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, University of California Berkeley, University of Vermont, Virginia Commonwealth University and College of the Siskiyous.

Jud VanWyke, a Ph.D. student from Michigan State University, visited UMBS to participate in the first UMBS BioBlitz since 2007. He hitched a ride on a pontoon boat with a family that lives along Douglas Lake.

The children and their parents helped him hunt for fungi such as morel and truffles in a cold stream.

“It’s a community of people who care a little bit more about the environment,” VanWyke said. “People are willing to learn and get their hands dirty and understand what’s going on and what are the scientists doing. I think it’s really healthy for humans to try to understand all the other life that’s out there.”

Van Wyke took fungi samples to study their DNA.

“For us to better understand how things have evolved over time — when we’re talking about genomes — we compare genomes to each other and understand how things have sort of diverged from each other,” VanWyke said. “But we also need to document what is in the environment so we can understand if it is still there later in life or if we’ve impacted the environment in a way that changes the ecosystem.”

“This BioBlitz is a snapshot in time,” Habicht said. “We hope to start hosting one every three years or so, and the idea is that we’ll alternate between the lake and the terrestrial, or forest, systems.”

UMBS hosted an Open House at the scientific field station on Sunday, July 23, in celebration of the BioBlitz’s successful teamwork.

Researchers showed off organisms collected that weekend and from the UMBS collection.

“The Open House was wonderful,” Habicht said. “The atmosphere had so much great energy. We had young families coming in with their children as well as residents who are familiar faces because they regularly attend our Summer Lecture Series. They received tours of the whole campus and got to see labs and our piping plover rearing center. It was fun to see everybody interacting and talking science.”

View the breakdown of the BioBlitz results, species photos and observations on the UMBS BioBlitz project website.

Watch the video to experience the BioBlitz wonder and excitement.

Scroll down to view the gallery of photos.

Bald eagle
Unhooking fish
Pumpkinseed/Bluegill hybrid
Taking photo to upload to iNaturalist
Douglas Lake residents and UMBS researchers on a pontoon boat
Collecting samples on a boat to record on iNaturalist
Broadleaf Cattail
Dr. Susan Fawcett, botanist and UMBS course instructor
Alia Kirsch, an alumna of UMBS from Oak Park, Illinois, who volunteered for the BioBlitz. She recorded video of a loon call.
Dennis Mikus, boat captain and coordinator of Bug Camp Stewards, is a Douglas Lake resident who generously volunteered his time and boat during the BioBlitz.
Dr. Phil Myers, U-M professor emeritus, walks in the field taking photographs to upload to iNaturalist.
Bald eagle
UMBS Director Aimée Classen gives a tour during the Open House on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
Group of visitors tours UMBS at Open House.
Visitors look at Northern water snake collected during the UMBS BioBlitz.
Visitors look through microscopes to examine microbes collected during the BioBlitz.