Life in Toronto – Rouge Bioblitz 2012

Posted: June 25, 2012 - 14:53 , by royal

submitted by the ROM Bioblitz Team

The term BioBlitz has been floating around since the late 1990’s. It was popularized by the US National Park Service and in 1998 by famous Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson.  A BioBlitz is a survey of all life within a given area during an intense 24hr period. Usually, surveys are led by experts of various forms of life (known as “taxa” to biologists). The goal is, and has always been to raise awareness of biodiversity. A nice side-benefit is the baseline data that the surveys produce; and, if continued annually, the record of changing patterns of living things in a region.
Examples of invertebrates from the Rouge Bioblitz
Examples of invertebrates from the Rouge (c) EVC Students (Joshua See, Evan Hall, Caitlin Mcmanus)

Over the last decade, hundreds, if not thousands of BioBlitzes have occurred across the globe – from New Zealand to Spain to Taiwan.  The UK, Canada and US produce the most sophisticated events, with some having five or six years of continued work.  Well organized, well attended BioBlitzes can result in 1000 or more species being documented.
Species in their habitat at Rouge Park in Toronto
Species in their habitat (c) Pedro Henrique Bernardo

The largest BioBlitz in Canadian history took place at the Rouge Park, Toronto, Ontario on June 15th and 16th 2012.  Over 225 volunteers participated, and documented over 1260 species. This was the first BioBlitz at Rouge Park, and it will hopefully continue on an annual basis.  Rouge Park is an incredible space, spanning over 47 km2 or 11,500 acres.  It is the largest urban wilderness park in Canada, and is some 13 times bigger than New York City’s Central Park.

Rouge Park Map
Rouge Park Map (c)

The Rouge BioBlitz 2012 was organized by a dedicated team of partners from the Toronto Zoo, Rouge Park, Ontario Nature, and the Royal Ontario Museum, and was hosted at the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre.

Some stats:

  • 225 volunteers; experts, avid naturalists, logistic coordinators, and students
  • 1270+ species identified during the 24 hrs period (more coming)
  • 9 distinct habitat zones within the Park surveyed, from large marshes to ephemeral ponds, to meadows to forestsRouge BioBlitz participants in action at the Rouge Valley Conservation CentreRouge BioBlitz participants in action at the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre (c) Brennan Caverhill

Some cool stories:

A Black Purse-Web spider (Sphodros niger, the only Ontario species of the family Atypidae), which is closely related to the Tarantula family, was crossing the road at 3am (there has got to be a joke in there somewhere!)– this is a first sighting for the Toronto area, and has caused quite a stir in the arachnid community.

Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is listed as a Threatened Species across it’s Canadian range (Ontario/Quebec), with an isolated population in Nova Scotia.  Blanding’s turtles have survived in Rouge Park despite the closest significant neighbouring population being in Brantford to the west, and Peterborough to the east.

Blanding’s turtle juvenile


Blanding’s turtle juvenile, (c) Brennan Caverhill

The insect and spider team was probably the most diverse and numerous group with over 35 expert contributors. Specialists were divided into subgroups: spiders, aquatic insects, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, moths, ants, beetles, bees, wasps and flies. There were also many assistants that helped trap, collect, sort and mount the multitude of specimens that were collected and/or photographed in the park. This combined effort was phenomenal but it will only give a partial picture of the true insect and spider diversity in the park! Material is still being sorted and species identified so this list will continue to grow.

Insect team inspecting specimens at the Rouge Park Bioblitz
Some of the insect team hard at work! photo by Antonia Guidotti

Some interesting finds included Chiggers (Eutrombicula sp.) that were collected (unwillingly!) in the park and verified by an expert. A second record of Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata, a dragonfly) in the park was recorded, along with a cool tiger beetle – the Green-margined tiger beetle (Cicindela limbalis), a rarely seen species. 

Green-Margined Tiger Beetle

Green-Margined Tiger Beetle (c) Karen Yukich

A team of 25 botanists traversed the Rouge Park, on foot, in waders and by canoe to chart 520 species of vascular plants.  Fourteen of these plants were new records, including poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata.  This tall milkweed has white flowers and grows on the edge of forests. Some of the other additions relate to the extensive plantings that have been done in the Park over the last 20 years. While the plant list includes both invasive and native species, we were pleased NOT to find the giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum which has gained notoriety in recent years for its phytotoxity.  Rather, its close relative, cow parsnip Heracleum maximum was found in abundance. Cow parsnip is smaller than giant hogweed and lacks a jagged, irregular leaf margin.

Cow parsnip, researchers, and moss at the BioBlitz

Cow parsnip, researchers, and moss at the BioBlitz (c) Deb Metsger

And there are mosses too! Thanks to the efforts of Allan Aubin, the first formal count of mosses was conducted during the count. Based on field identifications, at least 39 species were recorded from two sectors of the Park. Once the labwork is complete those numbers will undoubtedly increase.

The ROM mycology group, consisting of the senior curator, technician, students and volunteers, partnered with the Mycological Society of Toronto. They were a force to be reckoned with! A total of 52 species of fungi and slime molds were identified, and several came back to the ROM. The Rouge Park has never been systematically surveyed for fungi, and all of these species are “new” to the list.  Although September is the prime “mushroom” season, the group did very well, and had a lot of fun!  See here for the interview with Simona Margaritescu, ROM Mycology Technician.

Ganoderma tsugae

A beautiful specimen, Ganoderma tsugae, was captured on white background by EVC photographer Brooke Allen. This bracket fungus grows almost exclusively on hemlock in North America.

A delightful diversity of non-insect invertebrates was observed, from habitats on land and in the waters of the park. Parasitic animals living inside other animals were also found! In addition to the expected snails, earthworms, leeches, and crustaceans, some unusual animals, such as Hydra, rotifers (“wheel animals”), and triclad flatworms were observed. One unexpected treat was to find both adult flatworms and their cocoons on the undersides of rocks in the Rouge River. A thriving clutch of tiny, young flatworms was visible within the translucent walls of each cocoon.

Triclad flatworm

Triclad flatworm

And last but not least, how could we forget our own taxa – mammals. When you think of wildlife you often think of our warm-blooded, fur-covered brethren. Dr. Judith Eger and the mammal team for the Rouge BioBlitz included scientists from the ROM, the Toronto Zoo, and York University to name only a few partners. They focused their efforts on finding bats, shrews, moles, voles, and other inconspicuous creatures that might call the Rouge home. Several bat species previously unknown from the area were discovered, and thanks to a network of infrared trail-cams hidden throughout the park, several critters like the otter below were also recorded.

Otter at Rouge Park during Bioblitz

See here to learn more about the Rouge BioBlitz and see the species list.