“Who knew so many things live under a rock?!” exclaimed one of the children who participated in the BioBlitz at D-Town Farm.
Graduate students, faculty and alumni from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology joined the Detroit community for the second annual event. Also overheard at the event, “I used to hate snakes. Now they're not so bad.”
A BioBlitz is a rapid sampling of an area attempting to identify all resident organisms. National Geographic and other local and national organizations have conducted hundreds of these surveys with youth over the last decade to reconnect people with nature and enhance our understanding of the diversity of organisms we share the planet with. The goals are to engage citizen science, foster community bonds, reconnect with nature, and discover biological diversity in Detroit. The event took place on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Some 40 children, from toddler to teen, from the youth group Food Warriors, part of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), and community schools, surveyed the farm in an effort to identify the plants, fungi, insects, birds, mammals and reptiles within the seven-acre farm located in River Rouge Park. In two hours of sampling, 75 species were recorded including the Eastern coyote, brown snake, Kentucky coffeetree, morel mushrooms and great blue herons.
Students, professors and specialists from the community and from the University of Michigan who study a variety of organisms volunteered to explore nature and document the abundance of life at one of Detroit’s organically managed farms. Volunteers guided small groups of children around the farm and helped them identify the variety of species they encountered. Altogether, there were nearly 70 participants who were, of course, vastly outnumbered by the creatures living on the farm.
“Our time together helped to expand our understanding of biodiversity in this unique urban landscape, foster environmental stewardship in Detroit, and strengthen community bonds,” said Naim Edwards, outreach and garden director, Voices for Earth Justice and U-M EEB alumnus (M.S. 2014). “Youth engaged in an out-of-the-classroom, interactive opportunity with adults who enjoy studying ecology.” Edwards was the main event organizer.
After lunch, participants shared their findings, viewed bird specimens from the U-M Museum of Zoology, and youth discussed the new species they learned about. Some children and teens described overcoming their fear or disgust about certain organisms like snakes, frogs, snails and spiders during the event.
The data collected will be used to extend scientific and public understanding of biodiversity in this unique urban landscape and to inform future opportunities for environmental stewardship. Over time, researchers will be able to measure how the farm’s maintenance affects the organisms that live there.
“We would not be ecologists if it were not for adults who mentored us,” said Edwards. “We want to foster the next generation of EEB students and faculty! Everyone who participates in BioBlitz leaves with stronger ties to one another and nature. People of all ages interact with organisms and overcome their fears of living things like snakes and spiders.”
Edwards added, “This event has garnered much joy and energy. The children, adults and volunteers who participate always express tremendous gratitude for this opportunity.”
BioBlitz at D-Town Farm was made possible with collaboration and/or support from: DBCFSN, Voices for Earth Justice, the Detroit Zoological Society, U-M’s Department of EEB, U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) and the Davis Peace Project.
The following people from EEB volunteered: graduate students: Michelle Fearon, Gordon Fitch, Paul Glaum, Theresa Ong, Beatriz Otero, Jacqueline Popma, Kristel Sanchez, Chatura Vaidya and Senay Yitbarek; Professors John Vandermeer and Diarmaid Ó'Foighil; alumni: Naim Edwards and Ivan Monagan (M.S. 2016).
Participating local schools included: Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology, The Boggs School, Bethune Elementary-Middle School, Shrine of the Black Madonna's National Training Center, St. Charles Borromeo Youth Group.