Bioblitz event targets Caledonia Gorge

Published Thursday June 23rd, 2011
A3 Sabrina Doyle

Environment: Scientists will research numerous aspects in the province’s smallest protected area

The untamed forest of the Caledonia Gorge is about to be put under the microscope by scientists searching for earthy treasures.

For two research-intensive weeks, they’ll be out in the field every day scanning the tangled underbrush for moss, beetles, small animals – even fungi.

It’s the third annual Bioblitz. This year, and for the next 17 years, the New Brunswick Museum will host this bio-discovery fest, intending to learn more about the complex biodiversity of New Brunswick’s protected natural areas.

“You can’t protect it if you don’t know what’s there,” Don McAlpine, the museum’s zoology curator, said.

When they started the project three years ago in Jacquet River, the scientists numbered about 25. This year, 42 notable experts will be on the scene. Not all will be there for the full two weeks, but McAlpine said it will equal almost 300 field days of research.

Many are coming from Atlantic Canada and Ontario, but there are a few scientists from Maine attending, and one from Texas.

McAlpine estimates the project will cost about $60,000. The museum raised most of the funds, but has also received support from a variety of environmental trust funds. The money goes towards lab equipment such as microscopes and freezers for genetic tissues, a rented house for accommodation and providing food for the scientists, who are often in the field by 8 a.m. and stay at the lab until midnight. But a big chunk of it will go towards paying people afterwards to deal with and input the large amounts of data that are always born from these kinds of projects, McAlpine said. In past years, many new species have been found.

There is a lot that we don’t know about the biological diversity of New Brunswick, McAlpine said, and it’s hard to develop management plans for a diverse, healthy environment when the diversity is unknown.

Caledonia Gorge is the smallest of New Brunswick’s protected natural areas, taking up less than 3,000 hectares of green rolling hills. The gorge slices through the Fundy Plateau, and is largely populated with hardwoods, spruce, and balsam fir.

To encourage stewardship in the community for these areas, McAlpine said they will be hosting an open house on July 5, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. During this time, community members can come and talk with the researchers and learn about their work.

The bioblitz runs from June 24 to July 7.