On May 24th, 2018, 16 students from Peaks School visited Ashurt Lake near the Mormon Lake passage of the Arizona Trail. The goal of the day was to conduct a “bioblitz” on the plants and animals we could find in the area and upload our findings to iNaturalist, an app where citizen scientists can add to the database of known species in a given area.
A bioblitz is a super fun way to teach and reinforce taxonomy, the use of dichotomous keys, keen observation skills, and address the importance of biodiversity in an ecosystem. With the help of teachers and volunteers from Northern Arizona University, students keyed out grasses and other herbaceous plants, trees, insects, birds, and aquatic macroinvertebrates. The project yielded 21 observations uploaded to iNaturalist over the course of our bioblitz! Putting these observations into the database increases scientific knowledge and serves our community.
After making observations, students had an opportunity to compare their findings of aquatic macroinvertebrates to a benthic bug assessment chart. Benthic bugs are particular species of invertebrates that are highly or moderately susceptible to pollution. When these “canaries” are present it is one indicator of a healthy ecosystem. If only highly pollution tolerant species are present it can indicate the presence of toxins, water or soil pH that is too high or too low, low dissolved oxygen or other chemical imbalances in the area that are making it tough for these indicator species to thrive. Based on our collected data we hypothesize the the aquatic macroinvertebrate community at Ashurst Lake indicates a moderately healthy ecosystem. The areas around the edges of the pond yielded no macro-invertebrates from the level 1 ethic bug chart and only a few from level 2. We discussed how the high concentration of algae may be contributing and how we would need further study to have a solid answer for.
Healthy ecosystems and healthy forests mean healthy people too! After our bioblitz students were invited to reflect on how healthy forests help people. Students had a variety of answers from having trails and outdoor spaces to exercise, breathe clean air, and meditate to recognizing that healthy forests lead to healthy watersheds which in turn informs the health of our water sources for humans.
Finally, to conclude the day, students were invited to write poetry based on their five senses and what they could observe around themselves. It was a full day made possible by a number of wonderful volunteers and funding from NEEF, the National Environmental Education Foundation.