'BioBlitz' seeks out Crater Lake lichen

CRATER LAKE — "Citizen scientists" are needed Saturday to locate, document and gather lichens for the national park's first BioBlitz, which promises to be an annual event.

No scientific expertise is necessary to participate in the BioBlitz, an approach conceived by the National Park Service a decade ago and promoted by National Geographic. Organizers say BioBlitzes help the public become acquainted with national parks for their ecologic value and not as mere scenery.

"Any opportunity to work alongside a scientist is inspiring," says Linda Hilligoss, education coordinator for the Crater Lake Science and Learning Center.

Participants will join teams of 12, each team containing an expert. The groups will split up, covering terrain in close proximity to parking lots and reached with gentle hiking.

Although the planned research areas are popular recreation sites, they're also the least studied, says Larry Powers, professor of natural sciences at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and BioBlitz organizer.

"We don't expect to see a lot of new species, but we never know," Powers says.

Groups will document lichen species by taking notes, photographs and some specimens, Powers says. BioBlitz teams can view their finds under microscopes set up at the event before they're added to herbariums — collections of dried plant material — at Crater Lake and OIT, Powers adds.

Lichens, with a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae, are ecologically significant because they can indicate changes in air quality, Powers says.

"There are reasons to be concerned with them," he says.

"They're like our canary indicators for a lot of different things," adds Hilligoss, who also is science education coordinator for Southern Oregon University.

Unidentifiable species will be sent to experts at Oregon State and Duke universities, Powers says. The event is funded with a federal grant slated for forest education programs.

If the BioBlitz is successful, organizers plan to survey Crater Lake's soil insects and arthropods next year, Powers says. This year's event builds on a trial run over three weekends last summer that put 24 plant experts — amateur and professional — in the park's Sphagnum Bog, where vascular plants and mosses were the primary research subjects, Powers says.

"This is one of the largest pristine wetlands," Powers says. "I've never seen anybody from the general public ever there."

Near the park's northwestern boundary, Sphagnum Bog is home to two types of carnivorous plants, sundews and bladderworts, Powers says. Most park visitors will never see the area because it's covered in ankle-deep water and is accessible over woodland trails that take about an hour and half to hike, he adds. The group's research there is being assembled for publication, which may include a DVD tour available for sale, Powers says.

BioBlitz participants gain free entry to the park for the day of the event but are asked to supply their own food and water. Children 12 and older are encouraged to attend in the company of an adult.

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