Inventorying the Loblolly Marsh

Loblolly Marsh Bioblitz '09

Loblolly Marsh Bioblitz '09

How do you take an inventory of a swamp? Well, it involves a lot of nets. And bug spray. Oh, and sunscreen.

On Friday, I took a road trip to the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Indiana (Adams County). My mission? To “assist” 24 scientists in taking an inventory of the flora and fauna of the Loblolly Marsh.

At the turn of the century, the 13,000-acre Limberlost Swamp was described as a “treacherous swamp and quagmire, filled with every plant, animal and human danger known.” And it was one of Indiana author Gene Stratton Porter’s favorite places. She painted, photographed and wrote about the swamp’s wildlife. Many of her 20-plus books are either about or set in the swamp. Unfortunately, the swamp was drained in 1913 to make way for farmland. Gene packed up and left, and never returned.

Today, parts of the original swamp are being restored and it currently covers 1,500 acres. (The Loblolly Marsh is a part of the original 13,000 acres, and today counts for 442 acres of restored wetland.) The natural inhabitants of the swamp have not been inventoried since Gene’s time, and have never been scientifically inventoried. Until now.

Armed with nets, notebooks, cameras and keen eyes, scientists specializing in plants, insects, birds, and reptiles and amphibians donned their waders and started searching. As a beginner, I wondered how in the heck they were going to find anything when, to my eyes, the only things I noticed were a lot of cattails, mosquitoes and dragonflies. One dip of the net showed me otherwise.

Frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, salamanders, beetles, spiders, dragonflies, snakes and turtles. All of these and more were discovered within minutes of beginning the survey. The birders were quickly making notes on the various species they saw and heard. And the botanists began their list of what would soon become over 300 species of trees, plants and mushrooms.

Whew! And that was just Friday afternoon! The BioBlitz continued on Saturday with the help of 24 volunteers from the Rivers Institute of Hanover College, Ball State University, Indiana Herpetological Society, Indiana University and several others interested in biological studies. By the time it was over, we had a much better idea of the plants and animals that make this special Indiana ecosystem their home. And I have a much better appreciation of the richness and variety that lurks just out of sight.

bioblitz_061909

Special thanks to Ken Brunswick, Regional Ecologist with the Limberlost Nature Preserves; Dr. Daryl Karns, Rivers Institute and Biology Department, Hanover College; Dr. Donald Ruch, Department of Biology, Ball State University; and the many other volunteers from across the state who helped make the Loblolly BioBlitz 2009 a success.

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