Kerala BioBlitz

 What is Bioblitz?


The whole concept of bioblitz dates back to 1996, to an event held at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Washington D.C., USA, where naturalist Susan Rudy had coined the term itself. The event's sole intention was to survey and identify all the living species in a given locality in a given period (usually 24 hours). The event hosted scientists, naturalists, and other volunteers and came up with a whopping 1000 species observation. Ever since this achievement, following bioblitz around the world had a public component in it. This maneuver was due to the ability to discover more species with better "personpower." Considering the rate of disappearance of species from the face of the earth, the scientific community also found bioblitz interesting and started promoting the same. 


A typical bioblitz session consists of taxonomic experts, students, enthusiasts, and whoever is interested in exploring life around. They shall document species utilizing photography, videography, audios, or even merely visual encounter notes. The team shall analyze the documents by the end of the session and establish a checklist.

KERALA BIOBLITZ

Kerala BioBlitz is a citizen science program initiated by ATREE-CERC, in association with India Biodiversity Portal (IBP), to document the biodiversity with the participation of school and college students, teachers and the enthusiastic general public. This program is expected to promote interest, awareness and participation in conservation activities and sustained monitoring of the biodiversity of the region.

Kerala BioBlitz leverages the features of the India Biodiversity Portal (https://indiabiodiversity.org/) to record, document, aggregate and disseminate the information collected, to a global audience. The portal will showcase the activity of the project in real-time, through a microsite entirely dedicated to the project. The portal also provides a platform for the participants to interact with scientists and experts in the field.

Kerala BioBlitz team will help the participants to contribute efficiently through capacity building workshops that familiarize the participants on biodiversity, its importance, need for conservation, identification of different floral and faunal elements and BioBlitz techniques. BioBlitz consists of 2-3 hours of Visual Encounter Survey (VES), spot photography and uploading photos of recorded species to the India Biodiversity Portal.  The expected outcome of the program are ‘backyard biodiversity registers’ of participating institutions and the contribution of the same to village biodiversity registers. We expect to build a ‘citizen biodiversity register of Kerala’ by the culmination of this project.

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Biodiveristy of Kerala

Kerala state (India), sandwiched between the windward western side of the Western Ghats (one of the hottest hotspots of biodiversity), and the Arabian sea, where within a span of 60Km of aerial distance the topography reaches montane cloud forests from the tropical coastline (0m-2695m asl). This huge range in elevational and rainfall gradient (from 500mm to 7000mm) contributes to a great diversity of vegetational types, diversity of species and the levels of endemism that makes Kerala a treasure trove of biodiversity. The vegetation types include wet evergreen forests, montane stunted evergreen forests (shola) and grasslands, moist deciduous and dry deciduous forests, dry thorn forests, swamps etc. Forty-one rivers and their numerous tributaries and streams support a rich and unique riparian flora. Kerala is home to about 4600 species of flowering plants, which accounts for about 25% of the country’s total angiosperm diversity, among which 344 species are endemic to Kerala.  Of the 285 species of vertebrates endemic to the Western Ghats, out of which 134 are from Kerala, which includes 12 mammals, 16 birds, 57 reptiles, 61 amphibians, and 84 freshwater fishes etc. Among the lower plant groups, bryophytes are more speciose with about 850-1000 species, including 682 species of mosses with 28% endemics and 280 species of liverworts with 43% endemics.  Among the invertebrate groups, most of 350 (20% endemic) species of ants, 330 (11% endemic) species of butterflies, 174 (40% endemic) species of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), and 269 (76% endemic) species of mollusks (land snails) reported from the Western Ghats region are found in Kerala. The Western Ghats also harbors several crop wild relatives, including pepper, cardamom, mango, jackfruit and banana.

The human well-being of Kerala is intricately linked to this biological diversity. Most livelihood and economic activities such as fisheries, agriculture, tourism, etc. depend on biodiversity. However, this biodiversity is threatened, mainly due to population explosion, which leads to unprecedented developmental pressures, overexploitation of natural resources, habitat degradation, invasive alien species and climate change. While there are indications in the decline of several species, baseline data to prove it is missing.

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 BioBlitz is an event where scientists, students, academia and interested public together document the biodiversity of a specific area within a short duration. The first BioBlitz was held at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Washington D.C., USA., in 1996, where naturalist Susan Rudy coined the term. Ever since the success of the first event, considering the dearth of expert taxonomists, the scientific community found BioBlitz as an excellent method for documenting and monitoring biodiversity. A typical BioBlitz is a citizen science initiative that provides a platform for taxonomic experts and interested amateurs voluntarily to get together to enumerate the biodiversity of an area. Every species encountered is documented using photography, videography, audios, or mere visual observation notes. 

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Considering COVID -19 situation, we plan Kerala BioBlitz using webinars to disseminate the information to the participants, thus ensuring zero physical interaction among the participants. The participants can document the local biodiversity and uploaded the observations, including photos, videos, or audios, and any additional complementary information to a portal created for Kerala BioBlitz within IBP. These observations will be identified with the help of the broader IBP community, which includes a plethora of taxonomic experts.

By the end of the program, we shall be establishing a "Backyard Biodiversity Register of Kerala," and each participating institution could aim to bring forth a "Local Biodiversity Register." Additionally, the participating institutions are invited to take part in the monthly taxonomic sessions for amateurs conducted by experts, organized by ATREE.

Previous BioBlitz sessions

ATREE in 2014 conducted Vembanad BioBlitz, a pilot study to understand the feasibility of such a program in schools. Students of grades 6 to 9 of 10 schools from Vembanad and Kuttanad region participated in the program. The program recorded ~4000 unique observations in just six months, including many rare species.

How to carry out the documentation:

  • Participants take photographs/videos/audio clips of species by using their smart phones/cameras.

  • Features/characters of the subject should be taken separately. E.g., If you take the photos of butterflies, try to upload the images with features or characters (if possible) like wings, patterns, all possible sides, specific marks or lines, habitat, etc.

  • While selecting a site to document, make sure different areas are selected each time. Eg: If exploring a home garden, consider the left side a day, then right, a paddy field, a scared grove or a wilderness spot. Try to cover at least 1km per session.

  • While uploading photos, it is important to tag your college/school name in the tag section.

  • Try to provide all possible details such as specific locality, GPS location etc.

  • While uploading the observations, provide the identification of the subject as how you know it. i.e., provide local name, other vernacular names or scientific name etc.  
     

Notes:

  • Please avoid risky areas and be careful about your safety

  • A specific mobile application will be made available for simultaneous uploads

  • Picture clarity is essential for better species identification

  • Participants are requested to maintain a field book, where they shall record their interesting observations, unusual characters, abundance and frequency of species seen etc. This shall be used while preparing the backyard biodiversity register and local biodiversity register.

 

The workshops Planned:

  1. BioBlitz: Why, What and How (dates will appear here)

  2. Nature photography using mobile phones

  3. Know your Plants

  4. Insects: the little things that run the world

  5. Amphibians around you

  6. Birds

  7. Butterflies 

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