With over 6,500 observations and 1,700 confirmed species, The Wildlife Society recognized the Texas A&M University Student Chapter for leading the Student BioBlitz competition in June.
For the first time in the organization’s history, The Student Development Working Group of The Wildlife Society is hosting a Student Chapter BioBlitz. The TAMU Student Chapter and one of its members documented the most research-grade observations for the first month of the competition.
Competition grows chapter engagement
Using an application called iNaturalist, individual members of University chapters can collect pictures of any taxa of plant, fungi or wildlife species they encounter. They then upload their photos with an identification.
Those identifications are confirmed by researchers, scientists and other experts using the app. Accurate identifications are documented as research-grade observations.
Joseph Richards is President of the TAMU Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society. Richards says their members have been working diligently to contribute to observations this summer.
Members of the Texas A&M Student Chapter have documented observations in six states including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia.
Richards says that despite being separated by city, and even state borders, their members are more active than ever.
“I’ve seen that the competition has really increased the level of networking among our chapter members,” Richards said. “It’s really helped us to stay connected in a time when right now, a lot of people feel very distant.”
Richards said that even though COVID-19 might have disrupted their school year, it has not disrupted their ability to learn in the great outdoors.
One of the members taking full advantage of their outdoor classroom is Cody Stricker.
Stricker leads in individual competition
Stricker is a Texas A&M junior and serves as secretary for the student chapter.
In addition to the chapter award, The Wildlife Society recognized Stricker as the student with the most research-grade observations and species identifications for the month of June.
Stricker said the secret to his success was making observations part of his daily routine and visiting as many state parks as possible.
“I’ve grown up on our family ranch, so I have about a hundred acres to run around here,” Stricker said. “And I don’t live far from Guadalupe River State Park.”
Stricker also visited Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge and said a few camping trips around Texas helped boost his observations.
Stricker said he plans to keep using iNaturalist, even after the competition is over.
“I like going out and taking pictures of wildlife when I’m hiking or camping,” Stricker said. “So it’s a cool way to be able to say that, while I’m enjoying nature, I can also contribute to citizen science.”
Courtesy of Cassie Stricker Photography
John Tomeček, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, said national citizen science platforms like iNaturalist contribute greatly to furthering wildlife education and research efforts.
Citizen contributions expands scientific borders
“It’s a really powerful tool,” Tomeček said. “With everyone out there using it—for us as wildlife professionals—we’ve been able to determine or confirm the presence of species in some areas where professional surveys have not been able to, or where we thought they were extirpated.”
Tomeček also serves as the faculty advisor for the Texas A&M Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society.
He said it has been great to see young professionals, like the student members, getting out in nature, testing and proving their own knowledge and ability to identify species.
The Student Chapter BioBlitz competition continues through September. Texas A&M University continues to be one of the leading teams in the challenge.
To monitor the Texas A&M Student Chapter’s progress, view their observations and check their stats, visit their iNaturalist page.
For more information on the Student BioBlitz competition, or the Texas A&M Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society, contact Tomeček at firstname.lastname@example.org.