Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reached a biodiversity milestone with the discovery and documentation of 20,000 species of plants, animals and other organisms.
Scientists from across the world have assisted the park in a concerted effort to catalog all life in the park through an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory.
“Reaching this milestone is a testament to the curiosity, tenacity and dedication of the biological community,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said. “Each year, we have scientists who share their time and expertise to help us better describe, understand and protect the wonders of the Smokies.”
The ATBI is an ongoing project to study the diversity of life in the Smokies including where the species can be found, how abundant they are and how they interact with one another. The project is managed by Discover Life in America (DLiA), a nonprofit partner of the park, in cooperation with park staff.
“This is a remarkable achievement – cataloging so many species in this relatively small region,” said Will Kuhn, director of Science and Research for DLiA. “But, we think that there are still tens of thousands of species waiting to be discovered in the park. We’ve still got work to do.”
In the 21 years of its existence, the ATBI has documented more than 9,500 new species in the park and an additional 1,006 species that are completely new to science. Among the newest species records in the park are the giant bark aphid (Longistigma caryae), which is the largest aphid in the United States; the Blue Ridge three-lobed coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba var. rupestris), a handsome wildflower native to Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina; the frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus), a rare butterfly whose caterpillars feed on lupine and indigo; and the yellow passion flower bee (Anthemurgus passiflorae), which exclusively pollinates the small flowers of the yellow passion flower.
In addition, the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was recently documented in the park for the first time.
Recently, DLiA and park staff invited visitors to use a citizen science smartphone app to participate in ATBI efforts. Visitors can record species observations across the park as part of the Species SnapIt & MapIt project using iNaturalist. For more information, visit www.dlia.org/snapit-mapit to learn how to collect and record species location data with just a few clicks.
“iNaturalist allows us to tap into some of the 11 million sets of eyes that visit the Smokies every year,” Kuhn said. “As visitors hike their favorite trails, they can use this incredible app to gather real scientific data about the organisms they see, and in doing so, help the park learn how to better conserve that life. It’s a fun and rewarding experience.”