June 29: Bioblitz? Science Day? Please come – and help us think of a better name.

We’re one month away from the inaugural edition of whatever-we’re-goiing-to-call-this-event. It’s kind of like a bioblitz, but we’re going to focus on butterflies and flowering plants – though we may expand that focus in future years. We’ll be collecting data, but also learning and exploring. There is no expertise required – we’ll show you what you need to know when you come.

Let me explain:

This new event grew out of a survey by former Hubbard Fellow Alex Brechbill, who was helping us think about how to better engage the public at our Platte River Prairies. The survey results showed that people had a considerable interest in a bioblitz event, or something similar. I wanted to be sure that we weren’t just making lists of species for fun, and that we had a clear purpose for whatever data was collected. As a result, we came up with this event, which we haven’t yet named.

A regal fritillary butterfly feeds on hoary verbena at our Platte River Prairies. Regals are one of the two butterfly species (along with monarchs) that we will be focusing on during the event.

We’ll be doing a combination of things on June 29, 2019. During each of three session periods, we’ll let people break themselves into three groups. One group will walk transects (with a leader) and count butterflies seen along those transects, focusing particularly upon monarchs and regal fritillaries. A second group (with a leader) will walk those same transects and count the plant species that are currently blooming. The third group will go on an exploratory hike (of a different part of our Platte River Prairies each session) with an ecologist, and learn about prairie ecology, restoration, and management.

Monarch butterflies are pretty common in our prairies, but it’s been difficult to get enough data on their locations to see if we can tie our management work to their success.

I hope the butterfly and nectar plant data will help us better understand both the ecology of monarch and regal fritillary butterflies and the ways in which our restoration and management work affects them. Most people are familiar with monarch butterflies and their current population issues. Regal fritillaries are also large colorful butterflies, but they are specialists – they are found only in prairies and their larvae feed exclusively on violets. They are an at-risk species, and while they’ve traditionally done well along the Platte River, our annual surveys have shown lower numbers in recent years.

Those annual surveys showed that regal fritillary populations crashed after the 2012 drought, and haven’t really come back very well since. Previous to that drought, we collected enough data to feel comfortable that our fire and grazing management was positively supporting regal populations, so we don’t think the current low numbers are tied to management. However, we’re not sure why the numbers haven’t climbed back up since the drought. Our current survey work only covers a few transects a year, so this event gives us a chance to greatly expand that scope and, hopefully, build a better understanding of what’s going on. If we repeat this event, as we plan to, over many years, we should build a really valuable dataset.

We’re not sure why we’re seeing fewer regal fritillaries in recent years. Our management hasn’t really changed, and they were doing well before the 2012 drought. Help us figure out what’s going on!

I hope you can come join us at this first event. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot, both about butterflies/plants and about how to make this event as useful as possible – both to participants and science. Also, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, we hope to have your help coming up with a better name for the event itself…

You don’t need to have any expertise in butterflies, plant identification or anything else. We will have people to lead each group and train others on the methods we’re using. It should be a great opportunity to learn and have fun. And if you don’t want to collect data, just come and go on the prairie hikes to enjoy what should be a very pretty time of year in the prairies.

If you intend to come, please RSVP to Mardell Jasnowski at mjasnowski@tnc.org or 402-694-4191. If you do happen to have particular expertise in butterflies or plant identification, please let her know if you’d be willing to play a leadership role, if needed. Bring drinking water, sunscreen, a lunch, and whatever else you need for a day in the prairie. We will provide refills for your drinks, as well as some light snacks.

Here is the schedule for the day:

June 29, 2019

9:30 am – introduction to the day

10 am – first session

11:30 am – lunch (bring your own – we’ll provide refills of water/other drinks and snacks)

12:15 pm – second session

1:45 pm – break

2 pm – third session

3:30 pm – done

The event will take place at The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies and our Derr House. Click here for a map, or just take the Wood River exit from Interstate 80 (exit #300), go two miles south, and then turn right immediately after the sharp curve in the highway to continue south. You’ll immediately see our sign and a driveway up to the brick house on a small hill.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

11 thoughts on “June 29: Bioblitz? Science Day? Please come – and help us think of a better name.

  1. Great article and event. You could call it Prairie Bioblitz Day………….or Wildflower Bioblitz Day (takes in savanna and meadow). This way you can jump from butterflies one day to plants on another.

  2. This is a great idea! We currently have a group of high school interns doing monarch research on a remnant prairie in Prairie du Sac, WI that includes the flowering plants (with milkweed too) and adult monarch butterfly counts. (We also inspect milkweed for monarch eggs and larvae, all through the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Project) I never thought about opening our research up to the public on a particular day. As always, your posts (and book) inspire and educate us! If you care to follow our journey this summer, you can find us on Facebook, “For the Love of Moely Prairie” or on Instagram @moelyprairie. Thanks again. Amy Chamberlin, site volunteer

  3. Hi Chris,

    We facilitate the International Monarch Monitoring Blitz, which is what we landed on for a monarch and milkweed focused event. You could call it a Pollinator Blitz or something along those lines. BioBlitz does have the connotation of looking for everything, but just a blitz is flexible!

    Sounds like a good event, we’ll post it on our events calendar!

    Best, Cora

    On Wed, May 29, 2019 at 7:33 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” We’re one month away from the inaugural edition of > whatever-we’re-goiing-to-call-this-event. It’s kind of like a bioblitz, but > we’re going to focus on butterflies and flowering plants – though we may > expand that focus in future years. We’ll be collecti” >

  4. Butterfly bonanza! Prairie Pollinator Party! Inch by inch, row by row, where did all the fritillaries go? Community Science blitz

  5. A good idea to replicate and locally collect useful data over time. Can be locally focused on local/regional issues.

  6. Pingback: Photo of the Week – June 21, 2019 | The Prairie Ecologist


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