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Scientists stage round-the-clock search

7 April 2005

Scientists stage round-the-clock search for life in Christchurch


Judy Grindell showing children what’s living in the leaf litter at the Auckland BioBlitz.
Photo by Peter Buchanan

Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens are already well known to most Christchurch people, but will come under closer scrutiny this weekend, as hordes of scientists probe the undergrowth, fish the Avon and scour the bush for creatures, day and night.

“BioBlitz – finding nature in the city” is a 24-hour quest from 3pm Friday, April 8 to 3pm Saturday, April 9, to find as many different non-human life forms as possible. A team of more than 80 biologists will scour the park and the gardens recording everything they can find, dead or alive; from plants to fungi to fish to animals, diurnal and nocturnal. They will keep a running tally.

The public are welcome to see the scientists at work at a base camp not far from the Garden’s Information Centre. There will be posters, microscopes, talks and displays, and the chance to join in field trips. Guides will take visitors to see or to help with spotting eels by torchlight, electric fishing, looking for mammal pests, bird watching, sweep-netting grass for insects, light-trapping moths at night, fossicking for algae and fungi, searching for plants, and touring the Botanic Gardens.

For the “weird” factor, visitors can see bacteria and algae from soil, plants and waterways that have been cultured onto agar jelly. They can also look down microscopes to watch tiny soil animals running around in leaf litter. Also, visitors will be able to see the inky footprints left by animals such as hedgehogs walking through tracker tunnels, or the bite marks of rats and others in special wax blocks.

The event is being organised by Landcare Research, Lincoln University and Christchurch City Council, with a big contribution from Botanic Gardens staff. Canterbury University, NIWA, Crop & Food Research, the Department of Conservation, Weed Busters, Environment Canterbury, Kaupapa Kereru and others are also participating.

BioBlitz in Christchurch follows a successful event in Auckland last month, in which such delights as dog vomit slime mould and blood-sucking leeches were found. BioBlitz spokesperson, Landcare Research PR/ Communications Manager Judy Grindell says she hopes the event will demonstrate to locals that there is a great deal more living in urban areas than they think.

“People recognise the large, above ground biodiversity such as plants, trees and animals such as birds, but they do not realise how full of life the area really is, and how important all the unseen species are to the health of our environments.

“For example, a teaspoon of soil may contain millions of bacteria and many kilometres of fungal threads. These micro-organisms have essential roles in nutrient cycling. The insects and fish living in waterways are often good indicators of water quality, and there will be students from Manning Intermediate in Hoon Hay demonstrating their stream monitoring work at BioBlitz.”

Botanic Gardens curator Dr David Given says BioBlitz will be a great opportunity for people to get to know the park and gardens better with the help of lots of friendly scientists.

“There will be dozens of experts in their fields here, and they are all very approachable people.

“We will be keeping separate tallies for the Gardens and the rest of Hagley Park. The huge number of plant species in the Gardens will help to highlight the role and scientific importance of Botanic Gardens.

“It will help to have a catalogue of what is here, to help us make decisions for future management, and to ascertain if there are areas that deserve special protection.”

Media and the public are welcome to attend BioBlitz at any time during the day. The main Botanic Gardens carpark off Armagh Street will remain open until at least 8pm. However other entrances to the Botanic Gardens will close at 6.30pm as usual. Visitors after dark should bring a torch.

Programmes outlining times for events and departures of field trips are available to media on request.

Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore will open BioBlitz at 3pm on Friday and ECan Chief Executive Dr Bryan Jenkins will close the event at 3pm on Saturday, revealing how many species have been found.

The BioBlitz website: http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/research/biodiversity/bioblitz/index.asp

ENDS

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