2,000 acres, 85 scientists, 24 hours

ESF faculty, students scour landscape for animals, plants and fungi

Some 85 ESF faculty members and students fanned out this week across 2,000 acres of forests, ponds and unique alvar communities in Northern New York, conducting a 24-hour "bioblitz" to inventory the plant, animal and fungus species on the property.

They cast nets, studied the ground and listened intently while logging species and collecting samples to study and identify later.

"The idea is to see how much you can find in a 24-hour period," said Dr. Donald J. Leopold, chair of the ESF Department of Environmental and Forest Biology (EFB). "If we don't find dozens of species that the owners weren't aware of, we'll be very disappointed."

Lucky Star Ranch is a private preserve in Chaumont, about 18 miles northwest of Watertown. Jody Garrett, who owns the preserve with his wife, Doreen, said the couple wants to learn more about the property and then share that knowledge with others.

""We believe this land is borrowed from our grandchildren," Jody Garrett said. "We want to know more about what's here so we can protect it for the future."

The property is one of the largest complexes of alvar communities in the United States. Alvars comprise prairie and eastern temperate and boreal forest species and are known for their rare plant and invertebrate species and high biological diversity. A number of rare natural communities, many state-listed plant species, and some rare butterflies have been recorded on and near the property.

The group started the bioblitz at noon June 22.

Undergraduates Arielle Metot and Nick Massa, senior conservation biology majors, and Kavya Krishnan, a sophomore in EFB, were searching for fungi alongside the ponds near the main lodge.

"This is an eyelash fungus," Metot said, indicating small patches of fungus with a feathery-looking edge. "You can see the eyelashes all around it."

Massa picked up a branch at the water's edge, looked close, and said, "Oh, nice. Dead man's fingers."

The fungus with the gloomy name was growing in narrow columns, poking straight out and looking a lot like miniature human fingers.

Out at an alvar site, alumnus Bruce Gillman, B.S. '76, Ph.D. '95, pointed out tufted prairie grass and a sedum album with pink flowers, commonly called stonecrop.

"This is horizontally bedded limestone with scant organic soil in a glaciated landscape," said Gillman, who now teaches at Finger Lakes Community College. "It's a cool landscape. There are a lot of rare plants."

He had seen a rare species of mustard growing in a crevasse in the limestone. It is a food source for the rare Olympia white marble butterfly.

The bioblitz was scheduled to conclude at noon June 23. Results will be shared when they are available.

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