Scientists and Citizen Naturalists Submit Sightings from Nature
Vermonters can start the new year with a resolution to
join one of the most ambitious conservation projects the state has
ever seen: an inventory of every living thing in Vermont.
The Vermont Atlas of Life will collect sightings from citizen
naturalists and professional biologists and present them online in
the form of maps, photos, and even social networking. From mushrooms
to maples, moose to microorganisms, everything counts.
"One of the most amazing things about the nature of Vermont is how
little we know," said Kent McFarland, senior conservation biologist
at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), which officially
launches the project on January 1. "The atlas will generate
excitement, discoveries and greater understanding of biodiversity
across the state."
Anyone can submit or view Vermont biodiversity data at to the atlas project.
Decades will pass before the atlas is complete; it may never
actually reveal every last species. But it is expected to grow into
the most comprehensive accounting of life in Vermont. It appears to
be the first attempt to document each and every plant, animal and
otherwise in an entire state.
VCE has a track record of enlisting citizens for
science, creating atlases of bird, butterfly and bumblebee
distribution across Vermont. The new on-line atlas project extends
citizen discovery to everything from common plants to obscure
lichens, even still undiscovered species such as microscopic animals
called "waterbears" or different kinds of snow fleas.
Ultimately the atlas will generate research-grade data to help
citizens and scientists discover, track and conserve Vermont's
biodiversity. McFarland says Vermonters cannot fully appreciate and
conserve what lives in this state without a more comprehensive
inventory of life.
"Vermont needs to discover more about what's here and where it is,"
said McFarland. "This may seem to be an odd analogy, but we should
be like big, national box-store chain with an inventory of every
product in the warehouse."
The Vermont Atlas of Life web site allows participants to enter the
name of species they discover, its exact location and an optional
photograph. It also allows experts to corroborate or correct
sightings, or even identify a photo of some unknown species.
VCE already runs an online bird inventory project called Vermont eBird and will soon launch a similar butterfly project called
Vermont eButterfly. The new Atlas of Vermont Life will accept any
species, rare or common, from anyone who joins its online community.
"We often hear about biologists cataloging the biodiversity living
on a single tree in some far-flung tropical forest," said McFarland,
"but rarely do we investigate the complete diversity here at home."