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Biodiversity 101

A class of middle school students spent a weekend learning hands-on lessons about biodiversity during this year's BioBlitz at Cedar Creek.

banner image of graduate student holding bird, student looking on

For one student, it was a chance to watch a sunrise for the first time. For another, it was the delight of turning over logs to find the hidden insects underneath. For others, it was the thrill of catching and measuring a mouse, learning about skunk cabbage, counting spiders, or holding a warbler.

For all 34 of the Jackson Middle School participants in the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve BioBlitz held last May, the two-day event was an opportunity to be immersed in nature — an opportunity that doesn’t always offer itself in the bustling, busy world of today’s teens.

BioBlitzes are short-term nature observation marathons held around the world as a way to both get a bead on biodiversity in an area and engage the public in observing and appreciating their natural surroundings. Guided by 11 CBS grad students and junior scientists, the eighth graders participating in the Cedar Creek event set and monitored mammal traps and bird nets, classified plants and observed and tallied insects and other animals along transects. As a wrap-up, each was challenged to ask — and try to answer — a question based on the data collected.

“They got to see things around them they had never thought to look for, or even knew were there,” says Ph.D. student Michael Wells, who co-led the event with Cedar Creek education coordinator Mary Spivey and Jackson science teacher Sarah Garrett. “By the end of a day and a half they were beginning to see patterns and how things are laid out.”

The event was not a complete cakewalk for the kids: The second day’s schedule included getting up at 4 a.m. to check mist nets and mammal traps. But Wells hopes that for at least some, it was enough to spark a lifelong passion for the natural world — and perhaps even for a career in biology.

“I grew up playing outside, flipping rocks and doing the nature type things, and that really got me to where I am today,” he says. “I think just getting kids out, having them interact with things they never would and in a new way that’s fundamentally different than how they would otherwise interact is really [valuable]. When people think of science, a lot think of people in laboratories working with test tubes, which is also very important. But one thing people forget about is that a lot of science, especially biology, is observing natural plants and animals, and you have to be in nature to do that.”

– Mary Hoff