Nearly 900 New Species Discovered in Smokies
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A 10-year project designed to document all living creatures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has led to the discovery of nearly 900 new species, researchers say.
The success of the 10-year-old All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory project, the largest natural history survey ever undertaken in the United States, was cited during a Senate subcommittee field hearing this week at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
The project, which began in 1997, seeks to inventory all of the species in the more than 800 square miles of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The park is “a hot spot of biodiversity,” said Peter White, a biology professor at UNC Chapel Hill and a member of the board of directors of Discover Life in America, the nonprofit organization coordinating the survey.
More than 1,000 scientists have been involved in identifying 16,570 species in the Smokies, including 6,129 species new to the park and 890 new to science.
Data from the inventory will be used as a baseline for managing the Smokies against threats such as air pollution and non-native pests. It will also continue to be used for education in local classrooms and in research laboratories.
Not only has the project advanced scientists’ understanding of plant and animal species in the nation’s most visited national park, but it also has helped to educate the public about the importance of preserving natural resources, panelists said at the subcommittee hearing Monday.
“I think we’re in an era right now where young people especially need to feel inspired by biodiversity and the environment around them and stewardship about their community,” said Tim Watkins, program officer with the National Geographic Society. “ATBI gives all of the parks an opportunity to play a pivotal role in inspiring the next generation of scientists and stewards.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the hearing will help lawmakers better understand the importance of the inventory and how it could be expanded to other national parks.
Pi Beta Phi elementary school in Gatlinburg, Tenn., has integrated the ATBI as part of the school’s curriculum, which utilizes the natural and cultural resources of the Smokies. Not only has the project exposed students to science, but it has also instilled in them the importance of taking care of the land, said the school’s principal, Glen Bogart.
Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said that is the biggest success of the ATBI project:
“If we are not good stewards, across the board of our national parks and taking care of it, then I have failed in my ability to manage this park unimpaired for future generations,” he said.