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What's living in Indianapolis?

An urban bio-blitz finds nearly 600 species of plants and wildlife in the city

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What's living in Indianapolis?

This black redhorse fish was found in Fall Creek during the bio blitz.

We know there are all different kinds of people living in Indianapolis. Whether they have been here for generations or just a few months, Hoosiers hail from all over the world.

But when it comes to what's living in the city, there is so much more than just people.

Back in September scientists from all over the state spent a weekend taking inventory of all the living things along Fall Creek, Pogue's Run and Pleasant Run. The "bio-blitz" was coordinated and sponsored by the Indiana Academy of Science and Reconnecting Our Waterways — a grassroots initiative designed to bring attention to the waterways in the city and capitalize on what they have to offer neighborhoods for recreation, education and economic development.

"A bio-blitz is an intense kind of effort to inventory all the plants and animals in an area in specific timeframe so you can say on this date all of these plants and animals were found in a particular area," said Becky Dolan, a Butler University botanist and co-chair of Ecology for Reconnecting Our Waterways. "It was focused on areas along Fall Creek and Pogue's Run and Pleasant Run which actually are an interesting areas of study because the creeks are corridors for wildlife and have you know remnants of natural vegetation that run all the way through the city."

Wildlife biologists, entomologists and botanists got their geek on by observing, recording and counting everything they could find.

And number of plants and wildlife existing in an urban setting was somewhat surprising. The final count of living things — both flora and fauna — totaled 593 different species.

"Now it's interesting that so many things are present in the city and I think we're still trying to figure out the exact t numbers of species," says Dolan. "We're also kind of still analyzing what the quality of the species were in terms of if they are unusual or rare and things that that would really surprise even the specialists to find in our urban areas. But partially we don't know what to expect because there haven't been a lot of these bi-blitzes especially in the Midwest that have been focused on cities."

So what did they find along Indy's waterways, and were there any surprises?

"One of the things the was interesting — katydids. They are insects that sing at night," recalls Dolan. One of the scientists was recording and going out to observe singing insects at night. And he found two katydids species."

Another interesting find included a particular species of fish, known as darters, that apparently are good indicators of high quality water in Pleasant Run and Fall Creek.

Dolan says there were several factors that fueled the desire for a bio-blitz. First and foremost, there is a big effort to remove invasive species from the areas. By removing the invasive species, native species will be able to thrive and develop.

"There's a sort of developing and evolving subdiscipline of ecology that's interested in urban ecology and trying to understand what kind of restoration efforts will help to make urban habitats to preserve and increase the biodiversity there because biodiversity is important," says Dolan. "You know when we think of biodiversity we tend to think of tropical rainfall for far away places. And yet biodiversity is important everywhere and it's not that more diverse communities are more stable and more resilient to potential climate change issues or other disturbances to the habitat."

Dolan says the plan is to return in a few years and take another inventory to measure the effects of the removal.

Secondly, Dolan says knowing what is actually there works right into ROW's education mission.

"I think I would like to help educate people about what's right in their own backyards basically and what can be seen by walking down the street and walking along or cycling along the bike path," says Dolan. "And so I think there's a great opportunity to connect urban folks who live in the cities with nature right in their own backyards."

Assessing all of the data that was collected over the Blitz period will take some time, but eventually all of the findings will be drafted and published in an article for the Indiana Academy of Science. Dolan is confident that there will be enough interest to repeat the blitz in a few years.

"Some of the scientists had such a good time they asked if we could do it again next year," laughs Dolan.