Two outstanding naturalists, but there can be only one... GSB Species List Champion!
Whatever your reason for participating in the GSB, it is worth noting the incredible skills of the two most abundant species observers of the 2021 event. These guys are definitely excited by the thrill of competition, and desire to observe and identify more species than anyone else. I'm competitive too and certainly aspire to these lofty counts, but alas, after trying pretty hard last time and coming out with 250 species, I don't think I will ever even break 500, let alone double that!
These guys are observing my entire 5 years of iNaturalist species observations in just 4 days! How!? What is it about them that means they can take so many observations of around a thousand different species, over the course of a four-day event? We had fun in this interview where I asked them about their own techniques, and for any tips to see if they can help the rest of us to improve our own bioblitzing prowess!
Pete: Let me introduce Thomas Mesaglio and Nick Lambert, known on iNaturalist as thebeachcomber and.. nicklambert.
So first things first, Nick, why don't you have a cool alias like me and Thomas?
Nick: Well actually, I used to have one, I can't remember what, but then I just changed it to my name so people wouldn't get confused.
Pete: Thomas, do you have any suggestions for Nick?
Thomas: 'Silence of the Lambert' - Not much to do with biodiversity but the movie does have the Deaths Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos) in it...
Pete: I was thinking iNatNatureNick - I do love alliteration but yours is better...
Pete: Ok seriously now, both of your individual counts of species diversity put you ahead of 99% of not just the other GSB participants, but of almost all of the other whole project areas as well. So, congratulations to both of you.
I know that this was a hard-fought battle between you, I noticed at one stage just after the event your species counts were very close together around the mid 900's. With Thomas just ahead. I thought he had you this time!
Nick: Yeah he had the lead for a while but it was part of my strategy to lull him into a false sense of security! It went exactly as I planned it (laughs).
Pete: I'm sensing some bitterness, Thomas...
Thomas: It was a complete tragedy. I think at the end of the 4 days, I was on 900 and he was on 600, and we had a similar number of observations - so I thought there was no way he was going to catch me. But more and more observations kept coming an the species count kept climbing, and after a while I knew he was going to overtake me - it was a sad moment.
The final count - with Nick finishing with over 1,100 species, and Thomas in the mid 900's.
(Have I said already how incredible those numbers are?)
For me the GSB offers a great chance to experience the incredible biodiversity surrounding us and enjoy moments in nature with the multitude of creatures we naturalists develop a deep and meaningful admiration for.
I was interested to hear about the memorable experiences these two highly skilled species observers have during their bioblitz efforts.
Pete: Do you guys have any stand-out, memorable, or unique observations from this year's event that you could share with us? Any cool stories?
Black-margined Nudibranch (Doriprismatica atromarginata)
Nick: Another highlight for me was taking the first-ever photo of a living specimen of a Weevil I found in the rainforest, and a terrestrial ribbon worm - which I had no idea that type of animal even existed!
Thomas: I had a memorable worm-related observation too - a 30cm long rainbow-coloured Ribbon Worm that was an incredible sight. I thought it was a bit of debris in the creek until I realised it was swimming against the current. It is likely a parasite and will have part of its lifecycle inside a host, but we have no idea what that host is.
iNaturalist user @mdv had this to say about Thomas' observation:
The white tip, the shining color (caused by reflected light) and the dark collar reminds me of female Gordiidae specimens, although a sure ID relies on scanning electronic microscope (SEM) and/or DNA barcoding analysis/es.
(Good luck getting that one identified to species Thomas!)
Horsehair Worm - Order Gordioidea
Pete: Thomas, I know you usually find a lot of mollusc species in the shell grit at your local beach, but I didn't see so many from you this time, what happened there?
Thomas: It was a tragedy. Shells are my go-to for hundreds of species during bioblitz events, and the GSB was my first time back at the beach after three months due to Covid lockdowns. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong...
Nick: You taught me everything I know about beachcombing Thomas!
Thomas: I wish I hadn't.
Pete: What about backyard highlights? Is there biodiversity that can be appreciated in the backyard?
Nick: I've had about 1000 species of moths in my backyard over the years, for the GSB I was lucky my generator arrived just in time and I could get out to the rainforest, and probably got 120 species in one night.
Thomas: For me, it was torrential rain so all I observed was two small brown moths impossible to ID to species.
Nick & Pete:...
Pete: I think many of us want to know some of your top tips for success in biodiversity observation? What is the key to such incredible numbers? Do you guys go into the event with a plan?
Nick: Yes I have a plan, but I rarely ever stick to it...
Pete: How about you Thomas?
Thomas: I have my patented 'Surf and Turf' strategy... It is about how best to spend your time. Seashells and plants give you the best bang for your buck - you can get many species in a short amount of time targeting easily found species.
Beetles are often a let down, sure we have incredible species diversity, but so many can not be identified to species level. You might make some great observations of rare beetles, but getting them identified to species might be very difficult or impossible. So for the bioblitz, that is effectively a score of zero.
Thomas: Always be ready to make an observation! Weeds growing out from a crack in the pavement? Observation!
Pete: Yeah, I saw my first male peacock spider the other day - Maratus - he was dancing and everything, amazing! Did I have a camera, even my phone!? No! Just had to settle down and enjoy the moment, such incredible critters.
Pete: Now it has to be said that you aren't both just uploading and observing during these large-scale events like the CNC and GSB, you both upload pretty much each day.
What attracted you to biodiversity observation in the first place? What is it about the iNaturalist platform that keeps you uploading day-to-day?
Nick: It is enjoyable and rewarding - but more that it is a powerful learning tool, especially for someone like me who learns kinesthetically.
I love connecting with experts in the field and how there are reliable experts in their specific fields. I know I will get an identification of a land snail by the morning. iNat has changed the way I interact with the environment, in good ways and bad - my partner won't go walking with me anymore! She can't handle going quite as slowly as I go. I notice the little things more.
I love that I am contributing to science with the records I am taking also.
Thomas: I am slightly obsessed with getting things to species ID level... There is great gratification when I get there!
The amount of knowledge I have gained from using iNat in the last few years has been exponential. iNat is both an active and a passive learning experience which is one of its great strengths.
I always come back because I like to pay back that favour that others have been so willing to share, so now I like to offer expertise when I can to others also.
Even with these amazing efforts of you both, we just can't seem to reign in the dominance of South Africa, with the top three species counts going the way of projects in Cape Town, Overstrand and Garden Route. Do you think they will always hold that mantle of global bioblitz champions, or can we catch them one day?
Nick: Their participation is amazing, with large groups of great botanists regularly getting out into the field together. When the top 50 participants are putting in hundreds of observations each, that just doesn't happen anywhere else. It isn't necessarily about biodiversity, there is incredible biodiversity here.
Thomas: Absoultely, they've got an amazing community of enthusiastic naturalists. But, if we can build up and level up the participation here so that more users are not just jumping on for bioblitz events, but using iNat throughout the year, I think we will have a chance to achieve similar results. There is a lot of unseen biodiversity in cities I think people could tap into in Australia.
Thanks to Thomas Mesaglio (@thebeachcomber) and Nick Lambert (@nicklambert / silenceofthelambert?) for their time and this fun discussion about observing and appreciating the other life that we share this planet with.
Pete Crowcroft (@possumpete) is an environmental educator along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, and lives on Wadawurrung Country. He helps to organise the Great Southern Bioblitz - a global citizen science survey of the Southern Hemisphere biodiversity during spring.