Connecting people, nature, and science is at the core of the mission of the US Department of the Interior. The National Park Service is playing a leading role in that mission in 2016 by hosting a national BioBlitz on May 20-21 that will have people nationwide recording observations of plants and animals in over 100 national parks. This two-day Citizen Science event will provide outreach and education opportunities for new and previous park visitors to document biodiversity, along with NPS staff and other partners. Furthermore for the first time in BioBlitz history, participants will enter species observations including digital photos into iNaturalist, making observations instantly viewable and organized into a single, georeferenced database. This event thus provides an unprecedented look at the intersection of biodiversity and people in parks across the country during the same time period.
As scientists investigating patterns of biodiversity, we are eager to maximize information from this event. What percent of known biodiversity will be recorded? How will percentages vary across species groups and parks? As scientists assisting natural resource managers with information needs, we are curious how public engagement may contribute directly and indirectly to science and conservation. How do visitor numbers on the BioBlitz weekend compare to other weekends? How many people will log in and make observations via iNat? Will numbers and diversity of species recorded depend on the density of participants, other aspects participant numbers or outreach effort, or the weather that weekend?
Answering these sorts of questions will contribute to understanding current biodiversity in national parks and help identify how to further maximize citizen science input. Our analyses will provide a rich platform for development of park-specific, regional, and national hypotheses about biodiversity, and for improved development of methods for studying park resources that directly engage and benefit diverse human communities.
Public lands face local and global threats in a rapidly changing world. Here we seek to understand the potential for rapid evaluation of the state of our natural resources through events that put the public at the heart of data collection, and to investigate how such an activity may improve engagement in science and nature for an increasingly urban-dwelling public.