Fifteen Years Of Searching For Life In Great Smoky Mountains National Park To Be Celebrated In March

When you're hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the amount of life surrounding you is incredible. You might sense that from the thick vegetation, the mossy rocks in streams, and the deep forest duff.

For going on 15 years now scientists and researchers have been sifting through the park's landscape -- from streambeds and caves into the tree tops -- to see just how much life there is. What they've found will be celebrated in March when a scientific conference is held in Gatlinburg.

Set for March 21-23 and hosted by Discover Life in America, the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory Conference will kick off a yearlong celebration of DLIA’s 15th year. It will bring experts and volunteers from around the world to the Glenstone Lodge for its annual recognition of citizen science titled “Celebrating 15 years of Discovery.”

The conference is dedicated to a first-of-its-kind-project to discover every living species in the park and is headlined by Eric Dinerstein, Lead Scientist and Vice President for Conservation Science at the World Wildlife Fund. His areas of specialty include bats, rhinos, tropical mammals, large mammal biology, seed dispersal, biogeography and community ecology.

Mr. Dinerstein has led many of WWF’s most important scientific projects, including the Global 200 Ecoregions, examples of which form the basis of his book Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations, which won the 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Science Writing. He also is the author of Last of the Unicorns: The Natural History of Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros, among other articles and publications. His newest book is The Kingdom of Rarities.

The main focus of the three-day conference is to highlight the research, conservation and educational efforts being made to understand, manage and restore the estimated 60,000-80,000 species in the Smoky Mountains, considered to be one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. At the heart of this effort is the DLIA-organized All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a unique ecological undertaking to find and document every species of life in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from ferns and fungi to birds and beetles.

The effort began in 1998 and is serving as a model for efforts to document the diversity of life throughout the nation—at other national parks, state parks, and in other preserves, large and small. To date, over 900 species have been identified that are new to science and more than 7,000 species have been identified that are new records for the Smokies.

In addition to scientific presentations, the conference will feature field trips in the Smokies, nature hikes, photography workshops, fund-raising auctions and book signings. The conference is open to scientists, researchers, educators, media and interested members of the public. Highlights include:

* An opening reception at Twin Creeks Science Center hosted by Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce;

* Silent auction to raise funds to help support the Smokies’ ATBI;

* ATBI science talks;

* Workshops on Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, Crayfish of the Smokies, Biodiversity in the Classroom, Citizen Scientists in Parks, Schoolyard ATBI, Meet Your Neighbours Photography;

* Scientific poster sessions;

* Field trips entitled Spring Wildflowers and their Pollinators, Mapping the Streams of the Smokies, Salamanders of the Smokies, Geology of the Park, and Tree Teams Project, and;

* Updates from ATBIs across the globe

For a more detailed schedule, registration forms, or to volunteer, visit this site.