Atlas takes wild look at diversity

Citizen scientists can now participate and explore a natural world with the omniscience of mother nature herself

While diversity in our community is often celebrated, nowhere is it found more abundant than in the natural world that surrounds the Columbia Valley.

With the help of a new interactive mapping system known as the Columbia River Basin Biodiversity Atlas, citizen scientists can participate and explore a natural world with the omniscience of mother nature herself.

“The Biodiversity Atlas works by bringing together, in a single Internet portal, all the technical information we can find on biodiversity in the region, and presenting it in way that is easy to use and understand,” said project coordinator Ian Parfitt. “Profiles for 42 species have been prepared — each has a beautiful picture, and links to reports from research, monitoring projects and interactive web maps.”

The atlas includes layers on a map of the Columbia Basin. Citizen scientists can load up different layers that represent anything from endangered species to logging tenures. Each layer shows the impact between species and events.

“If you are in Invermere and you are curious about the presence of grizzly bears downtown and how logging had impacted their prevalence, you can see both layers at once on a map,” said Andrew Creighton, communications representative for the project.

“It is primarily for science-based folks, but it is also now more and more for anyone that is interested in seeing how different things interact.”

Although the atlas was started 10 years ago, upgrades to the online tool have been constant, including the most recent development of a citizen science field added to mapping. Amateur biologists can contribute to the program by fulfilling three new positions: road kill reporter, wildlife tree reporter and nest box reporter.

The job description of the road kill reporter is to note the time, date and species of animals found dead on valley roadways for the atlas to keep tabs on vehicle-animal accidents.

The wildlife tree reporter fulfills the role of documenting trees, living or dead, that support animal life. Participants are advised to look for holes, nests, cones around the base of the tree and fresh wood chips to signify a tree is occupied. Reporters are asked to note the number of trees, type and location of findings in their study.

Finally, the nest box reporter documents the activities at nest boxes scattered at 200 different locations throughout the Columbia River Basin. The boxes are designed to act as surrogate homes for birds unable to build tree burrows due to a lack of appropriate habitat.

“Combinations of rare species and ecosystems, as well as healthy populations of large mammals and relatively intact predator-prey relationships, is part of what makes the Columbia Valley such a special place,” Mr. Parfitt added. “We are hoping that the Atlas will provide a platform for citizens interested in contributing observations of wildlife trees, nest boxes, and road kill that can be used to help biologists better understand and monitor the region’s biodiversity.”

The Columbia River Basin is the fourth largest watershed in North America with 67 per cent of the vertebrate species in B.C. living in the region. The Biodiversity Atlas was started with funds from the British Columbia Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, which was begun in 1988 to compensate areas of the province affected by BC Hydro power generation projects throughout the province. The atlas was developed by Selkirk College’s Geospatial Research Centre.

“I’d like to see the BioAtlas live on for many years and grow to include more information on more species and ecosystems,”Parfitt added.

“British Columbians should be extremely proud of the biodiversity that still thrives here and take the necessary steps to ensure that future generations also have the opportunity to experience the amazing richness of the natural world around us.”

For more information on the project, please visit .