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First BioBlitz Documents 480 Species in 24 Hours

Four hundred and eighty species were documented in American Prairie's first-ever BioBlitz on the prairie, which occurred from Friday, June 24 through Saturday, June 25, 2011.

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which a team of scientists and volunteers conduct an intensive biological inventory of all species in a given area. The data collected during BioBlitz will help American Prairie understand the baseline health of ecosystems and wealth of biodiversity on American Prairie lands. American Prairie's event was the fourth BioBlitz to occur in Montana.

"We really enjoyed hosting this opportunity for so many volunteers and scientists to spend time together on American Prairie Reserve," said Sean Gerrity, American Prairie President. "Participants were excited to discover, first-hand, the incredible biodiversity and beauty of the prairie."

More than 60 scientist and volunteer participants came from 6 states and 16 Montana towns, including communities as close to the prairie as Malta and Lewistown and states as far away as Minnesota and Colorado. Participants camped on American Prairie at Grouse Camp and worked in field teams to document species from various taxonomic groups including plants, birds, mammals and others.

Dr. Cathy Cripps, a mycologist at Montana State University, focused on fungi. Her team discovered 28 species of fungi, including the tiny "prairie polypore," which occurs on the rhizomes of grasses throughout the prairies of Russia, Mongolia, and Argentina, but is rarely reported in North America. The BioBlitz discovery of prairie polypore on American Prairie may mark the first discovery of the fungus in Montana. Dr. Cripps is currently investigating the legitimacy of a 1917 report of prairie polypore in Montana.

"This fungus is well-known in other prairies of the world, but we don't know it well," Dr. Cripps said. "This is exciting because prairie polypore is really a global fungus in terms of its presence in other prairies worldwide."

While 480 species were documented at BioBlitz, many other species are still being identified. A final report of all documented species will be available.

Dave M. Shumway, a professional photographer and instructor of photography at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, volunteered on the field team focusing on birds. Shumway had never spent time on Montana's northern prairie before BioBlitz.

"What really surprised me on the prairie was the diversity of insects, grasses, fungi, flowers, and birds," Shumway said. "I don't think people realize the biodiversity and beauty that we have in the eastern half of this state."

Grants in support of BioBlitz were provided by The Cinnabar Foundation, The Leonard Tingle Foundation and The John and Kelly Hartman Foundation.