Saturday, 20 September 2014

BioBlitz at Marwell Wildlife! an article from Owen Middleton

Green Hampshire is delighted to host another article from a guest blogger;  Owen Middleton (left), 19, who is a Southampton University undergraduate Biologist with a keen interest in all aspects of Biological Sciences and a passion for ecology and conservation. As well as a wannabe acoustic guitarist and passionate martial artist, he also enjoys music reviews for the student union's The Edge Magazine.

Owen's article discusses a BioBlitz that took place in the grounds of Hampshire's wonderful Marwell Wildlife.  

Zoos are vital for promoting the vitality of biodiversity and conservation. But just how diverse is the local wildlife around our zoos?


 by Owen Middleton 


Marwell Wildlife is a large and fantastically diverse zoo located in Hampshire and acts as a home to over 140 exotic species within its vast 140-acre grounds. With its main focus being the promotion of biodiversity and actively supporting conservation efforts internationally, it is to be expected that the zoo would also consider the biodiversity of our own British wildlife.

The first trip: The first team of BioBlitzers re-emerge  
 from the wildflower habitat after identifying the first group of species.

On the 13th September 2014, the first ever Marwell Zoo BioBlitz was carried out to investigate exactly that. The fantastic day saw the integration of experienced entomologists, highly regarded ecologists as well as students and the public coming together in the hunt for flora and fauna to gain an accurate and reliable data set on the biodiversity of our natural wildlife using ecological surveys. The day’s main focus was on the identification of small (and normally unnoticed) invertebrates (down to species level) as well as the local flora. Nobody was disappointed with the range of critters we found.

The BioBlitz’ main efforts were contained to two key areas: the amphibian arc and the wildflower area, each hugely diverse and showed a range of similar as well as unique species. In the wildflower area, we saw a wide range of invertebrates from arachnids to centipedes and wasps (of which I admittedly had a foot on the nest of at one point, much to the wasps’ annoyance), as well as a range of fungi, including many species of rust fungi, and plants. The amphibian arc lived up to its name and we successfully located a common frog (Rana temporaria) as well countless species of arachnids, all identified by our on-site spider expert, and an elusive rodent which annoyingly escaped us before identification. The two sites bloomed in their own unique biodiversity and it was a fascinating insight into seeing where these different species thrived as well as how and why.

Rana temporaria: Ecologist John Poland managed
 to catch this frog in its home in the Amphibian Arc.

The freshwater pond survey was completed by Dr Naomi Ewald, a freshwater ecologist, and expert in the identification of macrofauna found in Britain’s freshwater habitats. This survey was conducted within the Education and Learning Centre and allowed members of the public to join in with the wonderful job of navigating a white tub full of freshwater plants in an attempt to identify perfectly camouflaged invertebrates. After close inspection, a healthy, large (and admittedly terrifying) Emperor dragonfly nymph (Anax imperator),  several other dragonfly nymph species, mayfly nymphs, river boatmen and other expected invertebrates were located, suggesting a healthy and successful artificial pond.

Emperor Dragonfly Nymph: Once you found the perfectly 
camouflaged emperor dragon fly nymph, 
you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its size.

The only downside, according to Naomi, was from the lack of beetles or freshwater snails seen in the pond. This could have possibly been due to the size of the pond causing ducks to avoid the area and therefore eggs that get attached to duck’s feet would not be transferred from a colonised freshwater habitat to the next. Either this, or there is something about the freshwater habitat that proves inhabitable for the freshwater snails. At present time, your guess is as good as mine.

After a hard day of bug capturing and plant identification, the teams returned to Marwell’s own Education and Learning Centre to begin cracking down on the large data set to determine the biodiversity of the park. Within the ELC, the public were able to get up close and personal with less-native species including the Giant Spiney Stick Insect (Eurycantha calcarata) and Hissing Cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) as well as challenging themselves with some wildlife trivia exercises, including ‘Guess the Skull!’

Guess the Skull: Members of the public were 
encouraged to observe the skulls and 
identify the animal to which they belonged.

At the moment, the results of the BioBlitz are still being calculated and I will follow up this article with some results of the day when they are complete. I can safely say that it was a genuine pleasure to be a part of Marwell’s BioBlitz and to be able to witness how interested and eager all age ranges are in Britain’s wildlife is genuinely refreshing. The fact that these events stir interest in the welfare concerning how rich our local biodiversity is fundamental to the continued regulation of, not only international biodiversity and conservation of endangered species, but to the continued success of our own local wildlife.

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