• Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the national park.

    Great Smoky Mountains

    National Park NC,TN

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Inventory & Monitoring, cont.

 
Phlox.

Phlox growing in a wetland.

NPS photo.

Why inventory and monitor park life? The Smoky Mountains are one of the most species-rich parks in the national park system, and are designated as an International Biosphere Reserve World Heritage Site. On the ground, this means the park is home to species that are endangered, rare, and endemic (living only in the Smokies), as well as unique communities of plants and animals. We are not only mandated as a national park to protect these rare living resources, but also to preserve all of the native life within the park. To protect these resources, it is crucial to know what, where, and how species exist, and, over time, how they are changing. By looking at these documented trends that come out of inventory and monitoring work, scientists can then ask where, why, and how changes happen, and help park scientists, maintenance workers, and managers better protect the park's unique species and ecosystems.

Many protected areas around the country have or are starting inventory & monitoring programs. The Great Smoky Mountains Inventory and Monitoring program is special because it was one of the first in the country. Now in its second decade, the program includes not only vascular plants and vertebrates, as many programs do, but also has inventory data on almost every physical and biological resource in the park. Scientists use that data to advise collaborator research, identify and protect rare or vulnerable species, and study ecological relationships between species and patterns across the park. The health of the resources is also vital to good management.

Refocusing for the future
In 2009-10, Smokies resource management and science staff re-evaluated their monitoring protocol, focusing on key threats to park life: climate change, air and water pollution, and invasive species that take over habitat and out-compete native species. In the coming years, they will monitor air, water, soil, plant, and animal conditions at the same locations so they can understand how complex interactions affect life on the ground.

 
A volunteer group collects water mites with Dr. Andrea Radwell.

DLIA funds public workshops such as this water mite collection with Dr. Andrea Radwell.

Photo copyright Kevin FitzPatrick.

Here are two ways to see some of the Inventory and Monitoring work in the field without even getting wet:

1. Go into the field with park scientists as they begin to inventory wetlands, go to the NPS profile: What's in our wetlands?

2. The park’s I & M program also works with a partner non-profit group, Discover Life in America (DLIA), to coordinate the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI). Go to the Partner Profile to collect water mites in a Smokies stream.

Or, return to Dispatches from the Field: Discovering Life main page.

Did You Know?

Scientists estimate that 100,000 different species live in the park.

What lives in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Although the question sounds simple, it is actually extremely complex. Right now scientists think that we only know about 17 percent of the plants and animals that live in the park, or about 17,000 species of a probable 100,000 different organisms.