Bioblitz: The Fungus Among Us


MushroomWhat is a BioBlitz?

Discover Life in America (DLIA), scientists from the Illinois Natural History Survey and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are host to a unique program called the BioBlitz. Designed as part contest, part festival, part educational event, part scientific endeavor, the BioBlitz brings together scientists from across the region in a race against time to see how many species they can count in a 24-hour biological survey of a the fungal diversity in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The public is invited to observe the scientists' activities, to interact with them, and to participate in other activities that are presented by DLIA and a host of invited nature-oriented organizations.

Why Do It?

Public Awareness:

BioBlitzs are designed to increase the public's awareness of the variety of life in their immediate neighborhood and the services these various species provide to improve the quality of their lives. We usually hear the word "biodiversity" in regard to rainforests with their vast number of species. Yet the diversity of life in our own backyards is phenomenal. We take for granted clean water, fertile soil, and air to breathe. Yet these are all the result of working ecosystems filled with species that perform these tasks. From our morning shower to our late night snack, we are supported by biodiversity every minute of the day. What better way to address the topic than to invite people to share in our 24-hours of discovery and to experience the vast array of species that we can find in their neighborhood park in just one cycle of the day?

Excite kids about science:

The BioBlitz is an excellent tool for exciting children about science. This event generates energy and enthusiasm among scientists and lay people alike. It is rare for biologists from many disciplines to have the opportunity to get together, share their passions with each other and the public, and work toward a single common goal. This event is designed to capitalize on that and to encourage interaction with scientists at the "base camp." The "base camp" is the hub of the BioBlitz. It is a centralized tent equipped with microscopes, computers, and other tools of the trade. This is where identifications take place, species are recorded, discoveries are made, and the tally of species is recorded.

Generate Data:

The BioBlitz also generates a list of species found in the park, a first step in successful park management. The BioBlitz has the potential to identify species that should be monitored or controlled. It may identify unique aspects of the park that might otherwise not have been known. This information along with recommendations from the scientists is supplied to the park. Imagine the cost of hiring a team of experts to conduct a Fungi survey and make recommendations for park management.

Celebrate with us:

The BioBlitz is a celebration of the diversity of life in our backyards. But why celebrate it? We hear again and again about the negative impacts we've had on biodiversity such as the loss of species and the destruction of habitats. It seems rare to accentuate and celebrate something positive. The BioBlitz is a chance to highlight the positive impact that parks and open spaces, with all their diversity, have on our everyday lives. Join us as we celebrate biodiversity formally at the BioBlitz.

The Big Picture

As we gain valuable information about our parks, we can begin to understand the extent to which parks are sustaining the richness of biodiversity. 

  • When: Saturday, July 12, 2014
  • What time: 9 am – 9 pm; with 3 scheduled hunts & a public presentations
  • Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Twin Creeks Science and Education Center
  • Who: Anyone & everyone, no experience necessary
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: Todd P. Witcher, Executive Director, Discover Life in America, 865-430-4757

Event Schedule


2014 Biodiversity Days in The Smokies


Celebrate Biodiversity Days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park beginning on June 19 - 21, 2013 with walk, seminars, demonstrations, scientist-led field trips, and other fun events both on the Tennessee side and North Carolina side of the Park.  All in celebration of the amazing diversity of GSMNP.  

Space will be limited; make your reservations early. (see below for schedule of events)

What is Biodiversity?

BeetleBlitzBiodiversity is the variation of species in a given ecosystem, including all types of life forms from plants to animals. Here in the Smoky Mountains, estimates have been as high as 100,000 for how many unique species reside here. The variety of species in an ecosystem has become important to scientists since population and consumption of resources by society have been growing.

Why is biodiversity important?

The level of biodiversity in an ecosystem is a measure of how healthy that ecosystem is. Humans are affected by biodiversity in their everyday lives, with services such as clean air, fertile soil, and water purification all stemming from the ecosystem and its biodiversity. Thus diversity in ecosystems enriches human life through methods not easily seen, and we need biodiversity to support ourselves and all other life we share this planet with.

What are biodiversity days?

Biodiversity days is an event provided by Discover Life in America where workshops, presentations, and hikes are given to raise awareness for the importance of variation of life throughout the planet. Obscure species are also discussed to provide visitors with a fresh outlook on life forms.

Schedule of Events:

Thursday, June 19th from 10 am to 3 pm- CENTIPEDES:  BIOLOGY AND IDENTIFICATION– Twin Creeks Science Center (Joseph Desisto - UCONN)

StrawberriesCentipedes are at the same time fascinating and scary. Learn about the biology and ecological roles of centipedes, be introduced to the 4 North American orders and many families, and see a demonstration of the many identifying characteristics. An overview of the who, what and where of centipedes, followed by a field collecting event, and a review of some examples.
-call to register.Centipede

Friday, June 20 from 10 am to 3 pm – FRESHWATER SPONGES OF TENNESSEE– Twin Creeks Science Center (Emily Stuart - LMU).

internLittle is known of freshwater sponges within Tennessee. They are truly unique benthic invertebrates. In this presentation I will discuss basic life history and habitat information. Some of the information covered will include foods, reproduction, symbiotic relationships with algae, and their basic function within an ecosystem and how they can act as a biological indicator species.  An overview of the who, what and where of freshwater sponges, followed by a field collecting event, and a review of some examples. - call to register.

Saturday, June 21st from 10 am to Sunset - FERN FORAY (survey trail to be determined.)

This is the continuation of the Inventory of ferns and associated species along the trails of the Park lead by DLIA botanists. The sampling method includes the utilization of 7.5 meter circular plots located approximately every 200 meters along trails. Between-plot sites are made up of observations and field identifications of flora along the trails between the formalized plots. The intent of the project is to inventory the ferns and associated flora over the entire Park utilizing the extensive network of trails, and a dedicated group of volunteer citizen scientists.  Trail to be determined.  Call to register and to be informed of the meeting place.

Please call to register!

For more information call 865-430-4757 or visit our website at

Learn more about the biodiversity of GSMNP and the on-going All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) throughout this website.

2014 Fireflies at Norton Creek


What do Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Malaysian jungles have in common? Haven’t a twinkling of an idea? It’s the presence of synchronous fireflies! During the first weeks of June, an annual lightshow, put on by Mother Nature’s night-lights, illuminate areas of GSMNP. This year the non-profit organization Discover Life in America is holding a number of events for the public to experience this natural wonder and learn more about the mystery behind the synchronous fireflies.

“We know of 19 species of fireflies (actually they're a unique group of beetles) currently inhabiting the Park,” states park curator Adriean Mayor. “There are 12 species that "flash" and 7 species with no "flash".” This “flashing” phenomenon is caused by a chemical reaction in the fireflies’ lower abdominal organs called bioluminescence.

Now you might be wondering: Why don’t the fireflies in my backyard synchronize? What makes the fireflies in the park so special? All of your question and more will be answered by attending any of the following events:

On June 6 and 7, starting at 7:00 pm and ending at 11:00 pm, DLIA is holding a fund-raising event at Norton Creek Sanctuary near Gatlinburg, TN. With exclusive access to the property and a firefly expert on site, you will be able to learn the answers to your questions while enjoying the amazing display first hand. Food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and drink (beer and wine) will be provided, so come out and enjoy this nighttime picnic with the fireflies! There will be a short walk to the site and be prepared for possible inclement weather. (Reservations required – space is very limited. Call 865.430.4756 for tickets! The cost is $75 per person.)

2014 International Biodiversity Days


A wide range of events are organized globally to increase the understanding of the important role of biodiversity in our future. Celebrations are organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which forms part of the United Nations Environmental Program. Also participating in this special day are many national governments, and a range of non-governmental organizations.

This year’s theme is Island Biodiversity. We will focus on the issue of the Smokies becoming an “island” surrounded by development.

2014 ATBI Conference



hotelWe have some big news!  A new venuhas been selected for the annual ATBI conference:  The Park Vista in Gatlinburg. It's a nice, new venue - and not far from the GSMNP's Twin Creeks Research complex.  See the Park Vista web link to the left.

And ... we have confirmed our keynote speaker:  Dr. Merlin Tuttle, researcher/photographer of Bat Conservation International about Saturday event)

Again this year DLIA will be privileged to host the GSMNP Park Science Colloquium. As has been our custom in the past, it is scheduled for the first day of the conference and lead by Paul Super from the park's Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center.

Mark your calendars and make plans early for the DLIA, ATBI conference.  It is scheduled for March 20 -22, 2014. Check back for more details as our preparations develop.


Knoxville Centennial Conservation Expo


Executive Director, Todd Witcher will give a presentation on DLIA and the ATBI at 1 pm on the main stage in the Jacob Building at the Knoxville Centennial Conservation Expo at Chilhowie Park, Knoxville, TN.  We will also have a booth set up in that building.  The Expo lasts from 10 am to 5 pm.  We hope to see you there.

2013 Mount LeConte Biodiversity Hike and Getaway Weekend


Come Join Us for Our Annual Mount LeConte Biodiversity Hike!

Again this year Discover Life in America is offering a unique opportunity for people who appreciate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and who would like to help contribute to the support of its outstanding biodiversity.  We are thrilled to have partnered with the Travel Channel to bring you this great hike and overnight.hike

We are providing this opportunity as an event you'll not want to miss - a guided hike to one of the Park's highest and most scenic trail destinations in the park ... the famous Mount LeConte Lodge!


Quick List of Activities

  • Guided hike up Alum Cave Bluff Trail
  • Picnic lunch on the way up
  • Sunset ATBI program at the Cliff Tops
  • Dinner and accommodations at Mt. Le Conte Lodge
  • Breakfast and a trail lunch (if requested)

Hike/Event Summary:

An experienced guide will educate participants about the natural and local history along the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Le Conte. Hikers will have lunch trailside (provided), and relax in the evening with an ATBI program. In addition, a ranger will provide a program for us at the Cliff Tops summit. Afterwards we will enjoy dinner and a night's stay at the Le Conte Lodge. After a great night’s sleep we’ll have breakfast the next morning, and a trail lunch (if requested) for the hike home. Upon event completion, participants will receive a small gift of appreciation from the staff of DLIA.

The cost/contribution? $275 per person, all-inclusive. All proceeds benefit DLIA & the ATBI.
You will receive a small gift of appreciation for your support at the end of our time together.

Note: Reservations are required! Avoid the waiting list and reserve early!

For more information and to reserve a spot, e-mail Todd at or call (865) 430-4757. There will be shared sleeping arrangements at the Lodge, so bring a friend or you will definitely leave with a new one!






July 12 and 13 at Twin Creeks Science Center

Friday, July 12 - 4 – 7 pm

Saturday July 13 – 10 – 4 pm

What is the most abundant animal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? A good bet is that it’s a nematode. Nematodes have been called the most diverse and abundant organisms on earth.  E.O Wilson says “It’s a nematode world.” Estimates suggest there may be more than one million species undiscovered and undescribed. Yet few people ever have the opportunity to directly observe them.

Come to the nematode workshop at Twin Creeks Science Center to find out what E.O. Wilson’s talking about. At the Twin Creeks workshop we will provide the opportunity to collect, extract, and view nematodes using dissecting and compound microscopes. Experience this unique chance to view the hidden microbial world that surrounds us. Nematodes feed on bacteria, fungi, small invertebrates including other nematodes, plants, animals and play an important role in the recycling of nutrients. Insect pathogenic nematodes are now marketed as biological control agents of grubs and other soil inhabiting insects.

The workshop begins Friday evening at 4 pm, after a brief introduction we will break into teams and explore and sample the landscape around the Twin Creeks Science Center. We will take the samples back to the laboratory and start the nematode extractions. On Saturday we will meet at the laboratory at 10 am to discover what we have sampled. We will keep a running list of the species we find.

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