Todd Witcher_Discover Life in America


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Todd Witcher, Executive Director of Discover Life In America, spoke about the Smokies Biodiversity project at the 2009 East Tennessee Preservation Conference.

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Todd Witcher_Discover Life in America

  1. 1. D iscover L ife in A merica’s A ll T axa B iodiversity I nventory in Great Smoky Mountains National Park ( ATBI )
  2. 2. What is an ATBI? <ul><li>An All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, or ATBI, is a survey of all living organisms in a geographic area. </li></ul><ul><li>An ATBI seeks to address the following queries: </li></ul><ul><li>What species are here? </li></ul><ul><li>What are their distributions? </li></ul><ul><li>What is their relative abundance? </li></ul><ul><li>In what ecological relationships are they involved? </li></ul>Yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) Appalachian jewelwing (Calopteryx augustipennis) Dryopteris intermedia
  3. 3. Why conduct an ATBI? “ Over 99% [of species] are known only by a scientific name, a handful of specimens, ...and a few anatomical descriptions.” - E.O. Wilson, 1992 While ~ 1.8 million species have been named, estimates of the total number of species on Earth range from several million to over 100 million. We know the least about the groups of organisms with the most species - invertebrates, algae, fungi, and microbes.
  4. 4. Understanding the organisms with which we share this planet has great regional, national, and global benefits. <ul><li>Advances in scientific knowledge </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Medical breakthroughs often result from properties of rare or recently discovered species </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The distributions and populations of species are invaluable indicators of pollution, climate change, and other environmental impacts </li></ul></ul>The natural environment that surrounds us is a part of our national heritage. Each year thousands of species go extinct worldwide as a result of human action - or inaction. We must learn as much about the earth’s vast diversity of life as we can, and thus how best to preserve what remains.
  5. 5. The pioneering Great Smoky Mountains ATBI has been a resounding success. Since scientific investigation began in 2000, 890 species new to science have been discovered . . .
  6. 6. and 6,339 species new to the park.
  7. 7. Other scientific products of the ATBI include... <ul><li>Details about species’ population locations, ecology, and abundance </li></ul><ul><li>Development of much needed taxonomic expertise/resources </li></ul><ul><li>Maps of species abundance and distribution </li></ul><ul><li>Useful databases now online </li></ul><ul><li>Findings displayed in over 30 scientific publications </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific advancement in biology, ecology, and many other fields </li></ul><ul><li>Development and maintenance of the DLIA/ATBI Annual Conference as a tool to bring science and people together </li></ul>Southern soldiers (Cladonia didyma)
  8. 8. Dedication to Education: Involving the Public <ul><li>Citizen Science Workshops are held to encourage public interest in and appreciation of nature through hands-on experience, training, and involvement in investigation, discovery, and documentation </li></ul><ul><li>300+ Citizen Scientist volunteers trained to date </li></ul><ul><li>Help for scientists in the lab and field during Bio-Quests (intensive, scientist-led collections) and other events </li></ul>
  9. 9. Dedication to Education: Impassioning the Scientists of Tomorrow <ul><li>School groups attend ‘Days in the Field’ with ATBI scientists and staff </li></ul><ul><li>A partnership with the Pi Beta Phi school in Gatlinburg brings students into the park on regular field trips </li></ul><ul><li>Teacher in-service workshops related to the ATBI offered each year since 2000 </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Biodiversity Boxes’ available to teachers for check-out and use in class </li></ul>
  10. 10. Water Mite (Hydrachnidiae)Workshop Andrea Radwell, University of Arkansas August 2008
  11. 11. Springtail Saturday <ul><li>PLEASE JOIN US FOR SPRINGTAIL SATURDARY A SPECIAL PROGRAM FROM Discover Life in America and DR. ERNIE BERNARD: </li></ul><ul><li>10:00 -Introduction-Natural History of Columbella </li></ul><ul><li>11:30 –Bring your lunch </li></ul><ul><li>12:30 –Hike and collection of samples </li></ul><ul><li>3:00 – Identification of samples </li></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>Springtails are minute arthropods that may occur in tremendous numbers in soils, but they are rarely observed. </li></ul><ul><li>Springtails are reputed to be one of the most abundant of all macroscopic animals, with estimates of 100,000 individuals per cubic meter of topsoil, essentially everywhere on Earth </li></ul>May 16, 2009 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Purchase Knob in Great Smoky Mountains National Park REGISTRATION REQUIRED call 8656-430-4757
  12. 12. Biodiversity Days in the Smokies 2009 CELEBRATING BIODIVERSITY in GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK Wednesday, June 17, 1 – 4 p.m. Hooray for Herps: Reptiles and Amphibians in the Smokies at Twin Creeks Thursday June 18, 1 – 4 p.m. Symbiosis: Birds, Bees and Pollen at Twin Creeks Friday June 19, All Day Xeric Cliff Bioblitz: Unique Dry Cliff Habitat — Call for more information Saturday June 20, All Day (meet at 9:30) Fern Foray at New Found Gap June 17 – 20, 2009 Twin Creeks Science Center and other sites 1316 Cherokee Orchard Road Gatlinburg, TN 37738 865-430-4757
  13. 13. Dedication to Education: Channels of Outreach <ul><li>Discover Life in America’s website, including over 18,000 files, is aimed at general readership and receives 600 to 1400 hits per day </li></ul><ul><li>Over 10,000 digital images incorporated into a scientific database (organisms, scientists, volunteers, artwork) </li></ul><ul><li>37 issues of the ATBI Quarterly printed since 2000 - over 3,000 hard copies and more online </li></ul><ul><li>Strong media coverage in newspapers, TV, and magazines such as National Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Science, Tennessee Conservationist, and Newsweek </li></ul>
  14. 14. The ATBI and Park Stewardship <ul><li>ATBI efforts allow for early detection of rare species and their heightened protection </li></ul><ul><li>Efforts greatly affect early detection of invasive exotics </li></ul><ul><li>Distribution and modeling data are vital for effective conservation </li></ul><ul><li>Data influences the creation of new geologic, soil, and vegetation maps with GIS capability </li></ul><ul><li>ATBI contributes hugely to larger understanding of ecosystem function and species interactions – the importance of the little things </li></ul><ul><li>Increased public support and subsequent long-term political protection for nature in the park and beyond </li></ul>
  15. 15. Stewardship Results <ul><li>Early detection of at least 12 exotic invasive species as a result of ATBI research. </li></ul><ul><li>Sound, scientifically - based input on several Park Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’). </li></ul><ul><li>ATBI data provides a base of information from which to make regular Park operating decisions concerning fire control, trail maintenance/location, rare species confidentiality, and other issues </li></ul><ul><li>Species inventory leads to better monitoring; ATBI data provides a baseline from which to note effects on organisms from stresses such as pollution and global climate change. </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding of species distribution and ecology allows Park managers to efficiently target land protection in and around the Park, and efficiently plan for the park’s future. </li></ul>
  16. 16. The Future of the ATBI Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been fortunate to be first in experiencing the ATBI’s power to inspire. It will not be the last. Parks and public lands across the nation have begun to initiate their own ATBIs. They all need our continued involvement and support.
  17. 17. “ We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” - E. O. Wilson For more information, visit us online at