Recent explorations

News picture What can pollinators tell us about climate change? We initiated a volunteer-based pilot bee monitoring project in the Boston Harbor Islands national park area... More

Bug of the month

bug of the month pictureCommon scorpionfly



Featured student project

Plant - pollinator networks



2013 update - publication

Rykken JJ and Farrell BD. 2013. Boston Harbor Islands all taxa biodiversity inventory: Discovering the "microwilderness" of an urban island park. Natural Resource Technical Report. NPS/BOHA/NRTR—2013/746. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado. Published Report-2195282. | pdf

The Boston Harbor Islands Partnership (BHIP) and the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University collaborated to conduct the first phase of an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) in Boston Harbor Islands national park area, Boston, Massachusetts. This six-year phase of the ATBI focused on the "microwilderness" of the park, a vast realm of invertebrate animals. The main objectives of this phase of the ATBI were threefold: 

  1. to document the diversity and distribution of arthropod and mollusk taxa in the park;
  2. to engage and educate students and the public about local invertebrate biodiversity;
  3. to use biodiversity data to inform park management. The project relied on the participation of more than fifty students, interns, citizen scientists, and volunteers to collect invertebrates on nineteen islands, and to sort, prepare, image, and database more than 75,000 specimens in the lab. 

Additionally, more than forty taxonomists from North America and Europe donated their time and expertise to identify 1,732 species and morphospecies. All specimens are permanently housed in the collections at the MCZ. Exploratory analyses of selected taxa suggested that, as predicted by the theory of island biogeography (MacArthur and Wilson 1967), island size was a reasonable predictor of species richness. However, an island’s distance from the mainland was correlated with species richness for only two of six taxa. Additional factors such as habitat diversity and habitat type (i.e., presence of freshwater or mature forests), as well as human-aided transport of species, appeared to be significant drivers of invertebrate distribution patterns across the islands. Numbers of introduced species were proportionally higher on the islands than on the coastal mainland for several beetle families, but comparable data for the mainland were lacking for most taxa, pointing to the lack of basic species distribution data that exist for invertebrates even in temperate, accessible locales. A large proportion of introduced species also had extremely high population counts and widespread distributions across islands, relative to native species.

Summary of progress through 2009


Sampling effort
  • Islands with structured sampling = 10; islands with limited sampling = 9
  • Total effort by sample type:  pitfall samples = 450 (x 7 trap nights); malaise traps = 106 (x 7 trap nights); light trap nights = 43; litter samples = 164; bee bowl transects = 99; active samples (net/hand collecting/beating sheet) = 339

Specimens collected, processed, databased:

  • Specimens collected = 155,000 (estimate) 
  • Specimens identified = ~47,000
  • Percent of total collected specimens identified = ~30%
  • Specimens in database:  1400 species; 813 genera; 221 families; 22 orders; 13,406 specimen lots
  • Storage:  3.5 cabinets with ~60 insect drawers; ~5000 ethanol-filled vials

Participation (through MCZ):

  • Students:  high school = 8; undergraduate = 12; graduate = 1 [~2300 lab hours + ? field hours]
  • Interns = 5  [~2400 lab/field hours]
  • Other volunteers = 3 [~350 lab/field hours]
  • MCZ staff = 2+  (specimen imaging [~400 hours], database management [~120 hours], poster design and production [~120], website design and management [~190 hours])
  • Professional taxonomists = 30 [hours not logged]

Student honors/thesis projects:

  • Stephanie Madden:  Biogeography and Molecular Ecology of Ground Beetles on the Boston Harbor Islands (manuscript submitted for publication)
  • Alison Ravenscraft: The acoustic niche hypothesis: sound spectrum partitioning in tropical and temperate communities
  • Adam Clark: Measuring habitat quality on the Boston Harbor Islands using ant diversity
  • Sean Kent (Northeastern Univ.): Plant-pollinator networks of the Boston Harbor Islands


  • Biodiversity posters:  Anax junius (1 scanned dragonfly); Bees of the Boston Harbor Islands (24 spp.), Moths of the Boston Harbor Islands (56 spp.), Carabid Beetles of the Boston Harbor Islands (24 spp.); Ants of the Boston Harbor Islands (24 spp.); Predators of the Boston Harbor Islands (21 spp./10 Orders); Boston Harbor Islands: Who Am I? (8 spp. in 3D); Weevils of the Microwilderness (30 spp.; 500 copies, NPS); Boston Harbor Islands PredatOR Prey (38 spp./16 Orders; 1500 copies, NPS)
  • PredatOR Prey card game (with Island Ambassadors):  3000 decks printed. Over 1500  decks distributed to schools and youth groups and 500 decks and posters were donated to Toys for Tots program in 2008.
  • Brochure:  Boston Harbor Islands:  All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory
  • Project website (includes description of project, access to database, Bug of the Month page, synopses of student projects, acknowledgement of all project contributors, links to other ATBI sites and NPS)

Educational curricula:

  • Developing a web-based module which allows students to extract data (including species abundance data, sampling and habitat information, species images) from the ATBI database to produce tables, plots, maps etc.  These tools can be used to explore student-driven inquiries. (W. Farnum)
  • Island-based curriculum:  developed "Bug Kits" which include insect sampling equipment, invertebrate identification guides, sorting and examining equipment. (2008: 11 field trips for 9 local schools, 530 students; 2009:  6 field trips for local schools, 492 students)
  • Classroom curriculum:  includes invertebrate identification activity using real specimens encased in clear plastic resin. (2008: 16 classrooms in 7 local schools; 620 students;  2009:  15 classrooms in 3 schools; 407 students)
  • Expanded both classroom and field curricula to reach different grade levels. Overnight programs provided to both 5th & 6th graders addressing their curriculum frameworks. 

Teacher trainings

  • Cambridge-area science teacher professional development workshop at HMNH (2006)
  • Charting a Course to the Boston Harbor Island Summer Institute for Teachers (2006, 2007)
  • Thompson Island Outward Bound instructor training (2006, 2007)
  • National Science Teachers Association Conference (2008)
  • Massachusetts Marine Educators Boston Harbor Teacher Workshop (2008)

Public collecting events

  • Beetle Bioblitz on Thompson, Lovells Islands (2006)
  • Earthwatch field trip and collecting on Bumpkin Island (2006)
  • Boston Boys and Girls Club night collecting on Bumpkin Island (2007)
  • Family Fun Days on Spectacle Island (2007, 2009)
  • Intertidal Bioblitz on eight islands (2008)
  • Harvard undergraduate/graduate class collecting trips (2 in 2006; 1 in 2007; 1 in 2008; 1 in 2009)

Presentations, displays:

  • Cambridge Entomological Club, 2005, Cambridge, MA.  Invited speaker.
  • Discover Life in America ATBI Conference, 2005, 2008, 2009, Gatlinburg, TN.  Oral presentation.
  • Nantucket Consortium of Naturalists, 2006, Nantucket, MA.  Invited speaker.
  • Northeastern Natural History Conference, 2006, Albany, NY. Oral presentation.
  • MCZ: ATBI overview for second-grade class from Graham and Parks School, 2006, 2008, 2009.
  • Earth Night, 2006, Boston, MA.  Event booth with Island Ambassadors.
  • Spectacle Island Visitor Center, 2007-2009.  ATBI posters, activities. Display cart with specimens and fun facts about commonly-seen insects on the islands, .
  • George Wright Society Conference, 2007, St. Paul, MN; 2009, Portland, OR. Oral presentation.
  • MCZ:  Oral presentation to volunteers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, 2007.
  • Cambridge Science Festival/Carnival, 2007, 2008, 2009.  Event booth.
  • NPS Regional Natural Resource Managers Workshop, 2008, Shepherdstown, WV.  Poster (S. Colwell).
  • Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde, 2008, Dresden, Germany. Poster on fungus gnats (B. Rulik)
  • MCZ:  Presentation to artists of the Mystic River Mural Project—focusing on local insects for 2008.
  • Hull Garden Club, 2009, Hull, MA. Invited speaker.
  • BugFest, Harvard Museum of Natural History, 2009.  Event booth and demonstrations.
  • EarthFest, 2009, Boston, MA.  Event booth
  • Yellowstone National Park, 2009.  Oral presentation at park's first Bioblitz.
  • Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative Conference, 2009, Nantucket, MA.  Oral presentation.
  • The Trustees of Reservations, Crane Estate, planned in 2010, Ipswich, MA. Invited speaker.

ATBI in the media

  • Vermont and Maine Entomological Society newsletter articles (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Segment on Fetch!, a children's show produced by WGBH; aired nationwide (2008)
  • Gulf of Maine Times, featured article (Summer, 2008)
  • Odyssey Magazine, a national publication (April 2007, Volume 16 no. 4)

Project-related awards

  • American Graphic Design Award to Hull Creative Group for PredatOR Prey cards and T-shirt (2008)
  • Discover Life in America Science Educator of the Year to J. Rykken (2008)