Bridging Learning and Doing: University of Denver Nature Challenge-I’ve Been Bio-Blizted!

By Corey Martz, graduate student, Department of Geography

While many of us probably think of the University of Denver (DU) as a community of amazing students, faculty, and staff – a DU interdisciplinary team is encouraging us to expand how we imagine our community to include the nature that surrounds us. Our team consists of faculty and students from the biology, law, geography, and sociology departments, as well as staff from the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) and the Center for Sustainability. Our goals are to engage as many people as possible in actively observing and documenting the “more-than-human” members of our DU community, and in turn, raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity to the functioning of ecosystems on campus and beyond.

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Our work began in the Spring of 2018 when we organized our inaugural bioblitz (an intense period of biological surveying to record as many species as possible within a specified time and place) at DU as part of the international City Nature Challenge (read more about the City Nature Challenge here) – a competition that engages citizen scientists across the world to see which cities can document the most species in their urban environment using the iNaturalist mobile application. Our aim was to mobilize the DU community in observing and thinking about our campus in a different way and, at the same time, to leverage our campus as a laboratory for learning about biodiversity and collecting valuable species data for research on campus, across Denver, and around the globe.

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We didn’t stop there. Inspired by the City Nature Challenge, we organized a companion event – the DU Nature Challenge – during the Fall of 2018, as many Colorado plant and animal species are more active during that time of year. During the week-long event, DU students, faculty, staff, and community members acted as “citizen scientists,” collecting biodiversity observations during guided nature walks. The week also included other opportunities to learn about biodiversity, including a free film screening, a panel of DU biodiversity experts, and a forum of non-profit and government leaders discussing important initiatives on the upcoming ballot (read more about 2018 DU Nature Challenge here). Following another successful bioblitz during the City Nature Challenge last Spring of 2019, and our second annual DU Nature Challenge planned for this Fall of 2019, our goal moving forward is to host two bioblitz events annually – one DU-specific event each Fall Quarter and one globally-connected event through the City Nature Challenge each Spring Quarter.

Come join us! We would love to see you at our next event. Start observing the world around you! As a citizen scientist, you can help collect valuable data that supports future planning of our campus, faculty/student scholarship and learning about biodiversity, and local to global biodiversity research. At the same time, you can learn what plants, animals, bugs, and fungi make up the DU ecosystem. Grow your sense of community here at DU and turn our campus into a rich living laboratory!

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