Biodiversity at Great Smoky Mountains National Park



STATEMENT OF DALE DITMANSON,

SUPERINTENDENT,

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK,

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,

OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING THE ALL TAXA BIODIVERSITY INVENTORY

WITHIN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK.

 

JULY 21, 2008

 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior’s views on the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

 Biological diversity is the hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Park), which encompasses more than 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  Dominated by plant-covered, gently contoured mountains, the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains forms the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina, bisecting the Park from northeast to southwest in an unbroken chain that rises more than 5,000 feet for more than 36 miles.  No other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the Smokies amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates.  More than 15,000 species have been documented in the Park:  scientists believe an additional 25-55,000 taxa may live here.

The All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) concept stemmed from interest generated by inventories of biodiversity in Costa Rica.  An ATBI is a concentrated effort to determine all species within a specific area over a given period.  During a conference held in the fall of 1997, it was decided that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a good venue to attempt a pilot ATBI and that the three major thrusts of the project would be stewardship, science, and education. It was also agreed that the project was too large for any one park, university, or museum to plan and manage and that a private, non-profit organization would be created to manage significant elements of the project.  The Smokies ATBI would test and design the most effective and efficient methods for conducting an ATBI. 

 A Science Plan was developed for the ATBI which presented the rationale for the project and the organizational themes and objectives that structure the work.  Overall, the habitats and taxonomic groups to be addressed are diverse but, in general, the project-wide goals that the ATBI was to address are:

·        Determine how an ATBI should be done (i.e., methods and design);

·        Determine what species are present; as well as where they are and when they are present; and

·        Explain the observed patterns of diversity, abundance and distribution.

To accomplish these goals, the Smokies ATBI Science Plan called for two approaches: traditional sampling and structured sampling.  Traditional sampling and observing is defined as field surveys in the general sense.  Collecting and observing is accomplished by individual investigators based on their experience, knowledge, time constraints, and methods.  Structured sampling is defined as those activities that take place at predetermined sampling points (Biodiversity Reference Points) chosen to represent the diversity of environments and histories of the Park’s landscape.

 Many sampling events are also conducted as “bio-quests” or “bio-blitzes” which are intense, short-term field experiences organized around particular biological groups.  These events are popular, convey basic conservation messages to the public, and provide education, outreach, and citizen science opportunities.

 Since the beginning of the ATBI, we have nearly doubled the number of species known in the Park.  Nearly every major group of life in the Park has been examined at some level through the cooperative efforts of taxonomic experts.   Prior to the ATBI, the Park already had fairly complete lists of vascular plants and vertebrates.  But, even in supposedly well-known groups, new records continued to show up. 

 We have held 23 bio-blitzes, and developed a wide array of supporting educational programs, products, and curricula.  Scientifically, it is believed that as many as 877 species new to science have been discovered, and 5,251 species were found that were known in other areas, but had not been found before in the Smokies, bringing the total number of species known in the Smokies to 15,559.  Of the projected 877 new species to science, 92 have been fully documented and published as new species to science. 

 Due to the anticipated value and ground-breaking nature of this project, the Park prioritized over $100,000 a year of operational funds to support the ATBI.  In addition the Park received a base increase of $196,000 in FY 2005 to support the National Park Service (NPS) portion of the ATBI.  All together, federal funding has exceeded $1.8 million during the first 10 years of the inventory. 

The Park’s partner, Discover Life in America (DLIA), received $100,000 to $150,000 annually, over those same years, in support of the ATBI through donations, largely from the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association.  These funds have been directed at bio-blitz and volunteer operations and implementation, data management, taxonomic identifications and program support.  Universities and colleges across the country also support the ATBI through various in-kind support efforts.  DLIA estimates that each year more than $400,000 of in-kind support is provided to the project through these partnerships.

 The Park further supports the ATBI through adjunct operations such as the Parks as Classrooms Program, the Appalachian Highlands Research Learning Center and the Park’s Inventory and Monitoring Program.  In addition, the Park provides DLIA with office, classroom, museum curation and laboratory space, information technology/computer support, data management, and equipment and supplies in support of operations.

 One of the lessons learned after completing 10 years of the ATBI, is that the project is much larger than originally thought and will take many more years to complete.  With that in mind, the following high priority tasks have been identified to be completed over the next five years at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

·        Identify priority taxa so as to “complete” taxonomic groups;

·        Address the data management backlog;

·        Initiate structured sampling efforts based on new draft protocol;

·        Initiate peer review of the overall program in order to stimulate interest in the ecological component of the project, draw new taxonomists to the project and improve program effectiveness;

·        Collaborate with other emerging Servicewide ATBI projects in an effort to coordinate versus compete for similar resources; and 

·        Continue bio-blitz programs to enhance outreach/education programs.

 Lessons learned from the Smokies and other projects need to be disseminated to avoid duplication of effort and to take advantage of efficiencies developed at the Great Smokies.  These projects need to have summaries and data reported nationally to share information and resources.

 Many parks have had ATBIs and bio-blitz efforts at varying degrees and scales for a nearly a decade.  The Great Smoky Mountains ATBI and other ATBI projects throughout the NPS will soon benefit from national coordination of their projects, allowing the sharing of results and the best utilization of the scarce resources that are available to carry out ATBIs.  Parks and managers are now coming together to ensure that the data collected through these efforts are identified, curated, managed, and analyzed  to inform park managers in making the best possible decisions in the preservation and protection of park resources, continuing to engage park visitors of all ages and walks of life.

 Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any other members of the subcommittee may have.