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  May 8, 2000

Scientists to Tally Species in Meriden Park

A site where the continents collided 200 million years ago will be the location of this year's BioBlitz, a day-long opportunity to learn about the diversity of animals and plants in our own backyards.

The event, hosted by the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn and the City of Meriden, will take place on June 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the 1,800-acre Hubbard Park in Meriden.

The BioBlitz combines an intense scientific project with family fun, in a spectacular urban park.

The event features live animals and plants, a self-guided scavenger hunt to identify animals and plants in the park, interactive displays and demonstrations and other activities. During the BioBlitz, some 100 scientists - under the guidance of scientific team leaders from UConn's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology - will count as many species and taxonomic groups of plants and animals as can be located in one park in a 24-hour period. The tally is expected to be more than 1,000 species.

"People think biodiversity is just in the rainforest, but it's all around us. Biodiversity consists of every living thing on earth," says Ellen Censky, director of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn and a renowned herpetologist.

"We are hoping that people will come away from this event having a better understanding and appreciation for what Connecticut's urban parks have to offer," she says.

The natural history museum sponsors a BioBlitz each year in a different Connecticut park. During the state's first BioBlitz last year in Hartford's Keney Park, 91 scientists turned up 1,369 species, including rare species such as a red bat and an American Bald Eagle, and several insects that had not been found in the state before.

Hubbard Park's special ecosystems shelter numerous unusual species that aren't found elsewhere in the state, as well as more common butterflies, snakes and other animals and plants. The park's Hanging Hills of Meriden - 1,000 foot-high, grey-green and copper-color ed traprock ridges - were created 200 million years ago, after the continents collided, when they began to pull apart. In the process, great cracks formed, creating a rift valley. Several times, lava flowed up from the crust and partially filled the valley.

Because of their mostly large, west-facing escarpments that are heated by the afternoon sun, traprock ridges create a slightly warmer microclimate for some southern species at the northern limits of their range. In contrast, and because of the slope that forms at the foot of the escarpments where cold air drains down the slope, there are also pockets of cool communities in which northern species are found near the southern limit of their distributional range.

There is no charge for admission to the BioBlitz. Hubbard Park is located on South Main Street in Meriden. Take Exit 4 off I-691 and turn toward Meriden. For more information, call (860) 486-4460.

Carol Davidge