Fungus observed during biodiversity survey

Statewide Biodiversity Survey

Curators and students work to build a baseline of biodiversity on U.S. Army Corps lands


In 2019, Bell Museum curators embarked on the creation of a baseline biodiversity survey to document plant and animal species on six U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recreation areas, with a particular focus on locating species of conservation concern.

This research project, in partnership with and funded by USACE, surveyed Army Corps lands at Cross Lake, Gull Lake, Pokegama Lake, Leech Lake, Big Sandy Lake, and Lake Winnibigoshish. Because these recreation areas are popular for camping and fishing, the Army Corps sought to discover how the heavy use of the locations might be impacting species diversity, and whether it promotes populations of invasive species. Surveys will also identify possible land-use and management interventions that may be necessary to meet the biodiversity conservation goals outlined in Minnesota’s State Wildlife Action Plan.

“With our expansive Biodiversity Atlas and our role as the state of Minnesota’s official natural history museum and collection, the Bell is uniquely situated to coordinate this research,” says Ken Kozak, curator of the Bell’s amphibian and reptile collection and the project’s principal investigator.

The Bell Museum’s Biodiversity Atlas is an online digital resource offering public access to hundreds of thousands of plant and animal specimens. The additions to the atlas consist of observation datasets—records of all species that were encountered on the properties, some with photos. This observation checklist is now part of the permanent record of biodiversity in the atlas, and will provide a foundation for assessing the impact of ongoing and future environmental stressors on the biodiversity of the Mississippi Headwaters.

close up of ladyslipper flower
Observations of animals and plants: 2,051. Species uncovered: 674.

The first phase of this statewide project involved all Bell collections, and this research presented a unique opportunity to train students in field and museum methods that they’re likely to use in careers as natural-resource scientists, and that are foundational for developing management strategies to conserve animal and plant life. Students also had the chance to engage directly in research with a federal agency, an experience that is rare, but invaluable in becoming familiar with goals and priorities of the Minnesota’s stakeholders and land managers.

Researchers included Kozak’s grad students Sam Weaver and Tom Radomski; George Weiblen, Bell science director and curator of plants; Ya Yang, Bell curator of plants, along with grad students Zacky Ezedin and Alexandra Crum; Tim Whitfeld, collections manager for the herbarium; Keith Barker, curator of genetic resources; Sharon Jansa, curator of mammals, and her graduate student Danielle Drabeck; and Andrew Simons, curator of fish.

The 2019 portion of the study gathered a baseline of plant and animal diversity in these locations; 674 species were uncovered across the recreation areas and over 2,000 observations of animals and plants were made. The next phase of the project will focus solely on Cross Lake, where the Army Corps has additional parcels that aren’t heavily impacted by recreation and researchers can compare the diversity there to the more used sites that formed the study baseline.