Yukon BioBlitz: Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun

Posted: July 13, 2016 - 17:49 , by ROM
BioBlitz, Biodiversity, Natural History, Nature, Research | Comments () | Comment
A single bioblitz participant takes notes on top of a ridge in the Dawson Mountain Range near Carmacks, Yukon. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

Blog by Stacey Lee Kerr, Biodiversity Storyteller / Creative Producer for the ROM's Centre for Biodiversity

The idea of what “midnight sun” really means is rather obscure to the uninitiated traveller. It doesn’t strike home until you’ve been sitting at a picnic table with some entomologists while they pin bees and flies without anything more than the ambient light, and you realize it’s almost midnight when it looks and feels more like 8pm. It’s a wonderfully bizarre sensation that I was able to experience when I travelled to Carmacks, Yukon a few weekends ago to participate in the Carmacks BioBlitz. Organized by the Biological Survey of Canada in partnership with the Yukon Conservation Centre and Environment Yukon, this was the first time a bioblitz had ever been done in this area.

Carmacks BioBlitz organizer Lucy Johanson takes a closer look at a bee specimen at base camp. The photo was taken just before 10pm. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

The event saw 50-60 scientists, students, naturalists, and the public surveying the biodiversity of this incredible location at the edge of “unglaciated Beringia” - an area of the North American continent that was untouched by the ice sheets during the Pleistocene Ice Ages. Being at the edge of Beringia, the landscape we explored for the blitz was still deeply influenced by a history of ice. Hills and formed by terminal moraines and mounds of glacial till, as well as valleys carved by meltwater dominate the area. The long, bouncing and winding drive up mining roads into the Dawson Range to visit the closest stretch of unglaciated Beringia is a breathtaking view of these features, which slowly but distinctly give way to the smoother, older surfaces of mountain peaks that have been worn down only by time.

Bioblitz participants learn about the plants and insects living on a South-facing slope overlooking the Yukon River near Carmacks. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

The Yukon is an incredible place to have a bioblitz. Not only for its stunning landscapes, but also for its people. There are the residents, most of whom have found their way to the territory by choice rather than birth, as well as the frequent visitors - the intrepid scientists who return year after year to continue to study and unravel the secrets of life in this unique landscape. Besides clearly having mountain goat blood in order to roam around the slopes and hills of the region with ease, they are a sturdy, welcoming group of people who have a deep love for and understanding of the lands that they (or their study species) call home.

A group shot of the participants from the 2016 Carmacks, Yukon BioBlitz - with some Ontario BioBlitz shirts represented too!

Events like bioblitzes allow them to share this passion and knowledge with others, while also providing a chance to collect important data. Verified records for species in the area surveyed during the Carmacks blitz were quite sparse for a number of species. But after having all of us descend upon the slopes with field guides and butterfly nets in hand, there will be a whole dataset of information that provides georeferenced species occurrences. This type of data is used to help determine the ranges of plants and animals, provide insights for determining protected areas, and with issues like climate change and invasive species, can help show if the species being found in the area, or their ranges, are changing.

An increasingly common sight on the leaves of trembling aspens all around Carmacks were the trails left by infestations of aspen leaf miner larvae, which feed on the chlorophyll. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

The following are a series of photos that will give you a bit of a taste of what we experienced during the Carmacks BioBlitz. You might see some familiar faces in the photos too - The ROM’s Senior Curator of Entomology Doug Currie, along with his Post-Doc student Mateus Pepinelli were at the blitz hunting for black flies. ROM Entomology technician Antonia Guidotti and her family were there too, stopping in Carmacks to participate midway through their vacation road trip around the Yukon. You can also still see species being added to the Carmacks BioBlitz iNaturalist page by clicking here. 

The Coalmine Campground - Base Camp for the 2016 Carmacks BioBlitz. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

Biologist Syd Cannings discusses locations within the blitz zone to send groups out to survey with Mary, a local naturalist. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

A student from the Yukon Youth Conservatio Corps helps a young bioblitz participant get a closer look downstream with binoculars. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

ROM Senior Curator of Entomology Doug Currie and Post-Doc student Mateus Pepinelli find some black fly eggs and larvae. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

BioBlitzers sort through aquatic invertebrates at base camp. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

The wood frog is the northernmost frog species in North America, and the only amphibian in the Carmacks region. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

ROM Entomology technician Antonia Guidotti checks the malaise trap with her son Colin that she set to capture flying insects the day before. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

A lone caribou we spotted running across a ridge in the Dawson Range during our trek up into the mountains of unglaciated Beringia. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) fly around the Coalmine Campground eating up the insects during the twilight hours around 1am. Photo by Stacey Lee Kerr

Looking to participate in a bioblitz near you? Check out the Ontario BioBlitz "Growing the Blitz" page for a list of events happening around Ontario, and even across Canada!