This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

UCLA goes back to nature at BioBlitz


UCLA Biology Professor Philip Rundel led a team scouring the landscape for as many types of plants as they could find. Graduate student Erin Marnocha and her group looked for reptiles and amphibians.

Professor Philip Rundel

Rundel and Marnocha were among some two dozen UCLA faculty, students and staff who led nature inventory teams at BioBlitz, a 24-hour race to find, identify, and learn about as many local plant and animal species as possible in "L.A.'s back yard," the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Held noon to noon, May 30-31, BioBlitz was equal parts scientific endeavor, festival and outdoor classroom — bringing together leading scientists, naturalists and adventurers from around the country with teams of volunteers of all ages. Some 6,000 people, including 125 scientists, took part. Local schools brought 1,400 children, many of whom had never been to the mountains before. The event was sponsored by National Geographic and the U.S. National Park Service in collaboration with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and California State Parks.

"BioBlitz was extremely successful at drawing public attention to the remarkable biodiversity that we have here in the Santa Monica Mountains," said Rundel. "You could see this in the excitement generated in the busloads of school kids that participated, many from inner-city schools."

Marnocha said that her team's goal of finding and identifying reptiles and amphibians was accompanied by the equally important goal — "to connect kids and adults to the outdoors and to that sense of excitement that comes from being outside in natural expanses, catching organisms, and discovering what they are.

Inventory teams combed the area for periods of about four hours. Rundel's group was able to identify 190 plant species in a walk through UCLA's Stunt Ranch Reserve, which is located on the north central flank of the Santa Monica Mountains.


See more stories and pictures at the National Geographic BioBlitz Blog.

"My group of volunteers had a wonderful time exploring the trails and the creek, catching lizards and frogs, and identifying them," said Marnocha. "It made me incredibly happy to see the children in particular approach our mission with such delight and enthusiasm. It is that sense of wonder and love for the outdoors that is essential to the protection of natural areas and the organisms that live in them."

Professor Arthur Gibson

Results from the inventories were brought back to "basecamp" at Paramount Ranch, where participants could watch scientists identify and document the species collected in the field. Additional basecamp activities included "Meet a Scientist" talks by experts, among them Arthur Gibson, Director of UCLA's Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden.

By the end of BioBlitz, 1,664 species had been identified. Over the coming months, analyses will continue to identify even more species from the inventories.

The Santa Monica Mountains Bioblitz was the second of 10 annual BioBlitzes that will be held at urban national park units around the country, leading up to the Park Service's centennial in 2016. The first was held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., last year.

Find more on the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

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