Macaulay Honors College BioBlitz

Destiny Berisha at the NYBG BioBlitz. Credit: papstudio
Destiny Berisha at the New York Botanical Garden BioBlitz. Credit: papstudio

By Xhulia Gjokaj.

On September 6 and 7, 2014, Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York discovered a variety of animals, plants, fungi, and microbes at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) for their 24-hour BioBlitz. BioBlitz is a project that documents, for the very first time, the complete history of the Garden. The purpose of this BioBlitz event is to create an updated inventory of the New York Botanical Garden’s plant and wildlife.

Destiny Berisha, a sophomore at Lehman’s Macaulay Honors College, joined over 400 of her fellow students at the NYBG. Destiny is a biology major and plans on doing a CUNY B.A. program at Lehman College through which she can create a neuroscience major through independent study. She has been working at the NYBG for the past two years.

“I love it there and truly feel like when I am there, I’m in a place that is far away from New York City. No matter if the border stays the same, the world that is enclosed inside constantly changes and is never the same as a time before. It is a fascinating place with a rich history and significant environmental importance,” said Berisha.

Macaulay Honors scholars were offered a set of Taxon (a group or rank in a biological classification into which related organisms) to choose from in selecting a group to work with for this year’s BioBlitz. Berisha chose the Lepidoptera group (which refers to a large order of insects called lepidopterans including butterflies and moths). Her shift began at 7:00 p.m., and ended around 10:00 p.m. The afternoon-to-night shift for the Lepidoptera group included a series of creating set-ups meant to attract large numbers of moths to a certain location so as to collect certain organisms of as many different species as possible.

Berisha explained how the organisms were studied: “At first, we used a mixture of beer and peanut butter, which moths are attracted to and become disoriented in flight after consuming, as a means of bringing moths to them. We also set up tables with heavily luminous light to attract moths and other insects as well. Although there are several theories as to why insects are attracted to light, their attraction to light is still a phenomenon with disputed explanations that we used in this data collection.” Each group was given the task to: “observe, identify and count species, from turtles and lizards to mollusks, bees, spiders, flowering plants, mosses, fungi, and microbes.” The outcome of this event is a large collection of species data of the NYBG.

Scientists from several universities and museums–CUNY, Hofstra University, the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, Fordham University, and the University of Connecticut–in New York City will organize and analyze the data. Then, they will hand over the data students collected together Macaulay scholars in order to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the data.

“As the first part of that project, any new plant discoveries will become part of a published inventory of the Garden’s spontaneous (that is, native or non-cultivated) plant life, the first such compilation in 114 years.” said CUNY Newswire.

According to Berisha, BioBlitz was an opportunity for Macaulay scholars to be scientists for a day. The natural reserves in New York City allow for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life, to exercise their scientific thought processes in a heavily urbanized place, and to explore the natural world while analyzing collects of data, she emphasizes.

The opportunity, she said, “…to explore the natural world and to analyze the data we collect to create a comprehensive, up-to-date study of this environment was especially important for me because I am interested in pursuing a career in science, and gaining first-hand experience to what being a field scientist could be like was eye-opening and insightful.”