Research finds 1,200 species in park

2009-11-02T22:35:00Z Research finds 1,200 species in parkCLAIR JOHNSON Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 02, 2009 10:35 pm  • 

Scientists from around the country found more than 1,200 species of plants and animals in Yellowstone National Park in a 24-hour research marathon in late August.

The park's first BioBlitz has documented the species with taxonomic and DNA experts still analyzing lab results, which "will surely increase our numbers,'' said organizer Kayhan Ostovar, an assistant professor of environmental science at Rocky Mountain College.

Some of the finds included new species, such as the tiger beetle, previously undocumented in the park, Ostovar said.

Ostovar called the event "a huge success by all accounts."

Participants included 125 scientists from Montana and across the country, students and volunteers.

A BioBliz is an intense effort to find and identify as many species as possible in a day. Ostovar led Montana's first BioBlitz along the Yellowstone River in Billings two years ago. Yellowstone Park's BioBlitz focused on invertebrates, plants, birds and other mammals in the northern area around headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Information about the less-studied and little-known species in the park may help park managers better understand ecosystem dynamics and potential threats, Ostovar said.

Once the species information is complete, it will be stored in NPSpecies, a National Park Service database where it will serve as a reference for future surveys and research.

Tom Olliff, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, said in a report on the BioBlitz that his biggest concern moving forward is "to better understand threats to the resources, such as climate change, invasive species and impacts from tourism and other forms of resource degradation."

A BioBlitz can serve as a benchmark to future park managers of past environmental conditions, Ostovar said.

Some of finds included 45 species of nematodes, 13 species of terrestrial mollusks, 45 species of lichen, more than 300 species of insects and 22 species of grasshoppers, katydids and crickets.

The botanical team, led by Jennifer Whipple, a National Park Service botanist, recorded 373 species of plants, even though August is a difficult time to identify flowering plants.

Jennifer Lyman, a RMC environmental sciences professor on the team, found a new plant called little seeded rice grass.

"We sat down with our identification keys and discovered it was a new species not previously documented in Yellowstone National Park'' Lyman said.

Organizers also shared their initial finds with the public in a Discovery Field Lab tent that was set up in front of the Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Ostovar spent much of his time overseeing the event but tagged along with a few teams. He spotted a very small blue lichen on a rock and gave it to a lichen expert, retired Montana State University professor Sharon Eversman. She identified it as Aspicilia desertorum, a species previously undocumented in the park.

"Everybody can have a discovery in Yellowstone, which is kind of exciting actually," Ostovar said.

The BioBlitz was sponsored by the Greater Yellowstone Science Learning Center. Funding came the Big Sky Institute and other sponsors, including the National Park Service, Yellowstone Park Foundation, Canon, Yellowstone Association, Sonoran Institute and the Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit.

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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