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Discovering Island Biodiversity in the Salish Sea

Globally, islands are special places of concern for biological diversity because they are species-rich yet also highly vulnerable. Islands make up 5% of the land area of earth but house 20% of all bird, rodent and flowering plant species and 37% of critically endangered species; they have also hosted 61% of all recorded species extinctions. In the Salish Sea, islands are important contributors to biodiversity and ecosystem health. Half of the shoreline in the Salish Sea exists on islands. In addition, islands provide terrestrial, marine and freshwater refuges, as well as unique species, rearing habitats and migratory stopovers. Yet, currently, no comprehensive effort exists to document and understand biodiversity on islands in the Salish Sea. We seek to raise both scientific and public awareness of Salish Sea island biodiversity through a community science approach that combines research, networking, and public outreach on Vashon-Maury Island and throughout the Salish Sea. 

The objectives of this project were to 1) increase public awareness and scientific documentation of island biodiversity through analyzing and sharing results from five previously-conducted annual BioBlitz events on Vashon-Maury Island; 2) build an island conservation and research network spanning the Salish Sea ecosystem; and 3) engage the public in hands-on biodiversity research through projects on species genetics.

Final expert-confirmed species lists from five annual BioBlitz events documented 1,092 taxa on Vashon-Maury Islands (complete lists: vashonnaturecenter.org/research). Species records and photos are on iNaturalist for use by scientists, naturalists, and students around the world. A nine-panel weatherproof BioBlitz exhibit on island biodiversity was created, and this popular exhibit toured art venues and all three public schools on Vashon-Maury Islands. We also co-hosted the first Salish Sea Island Biodiversity Summit with over 30 islands represented. Outcomes of the summit include an Island Naturalist Directory, a shared google drive folder of resources, and an email list where island conservation practitioners can collaborate and share advice and ideas (more info: vashonnaturecenter.org/vnc-co-hosts-island-biodiversity-web-summit/). Finally, genetics projects were initiated on coyotes, voles and Pristinicolaspringsnails. Our pilot coyote scat DNA analysis project confirmed that excellent quality DNA (identification to individual) can be collected by community science volunteers in wet Pacific Northwest environments. This project resulted in new methodology created by the Prugh Wildlife Genetics lab that is now being applied to other DNA scat analysis projects because it is more sensitive and performs better than former techniques. ($20,000)