Smokies Park reaches biodiversity milestone at 20,000 species

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reached a biodiversity milestone with the discovery and documentation of 20,000 species of plants, animals, and other organisms. Scientists from across the world have assisted the park in a concerted effort to catalog all life in the park through an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI).

“Reaching this milestone is a testament to the curiosity, tenacity, and dedication of the biological community,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Each year, we have scientists who share their time and expertise to help us better describe, understand, and protect the wonders of the Smokies.”

The ATBI is an ongoing project to study the diversity of life in the Smokies including where the species can be found, how abundant they are, and how they interact with one another. The project is managed by Discover Life in America (DLiA), a non-profit partner of the park, in cooperation with park staff.

In the 21 years of its existence, the ATBI has documented over 9,500 new species records for the park and an additional 1,006 species that are completely new to science. Among the newest species records in the park are the giant bark aphid (Longistigma caryae), which is the largest aphid in the US; the Blue Ridge three-lobed coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba var. rupestris), a handsome wildflower native to Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus), a rare butterfly whose caterpillars feed on lupine and indigo; and the yellow passion flower bee (Anthemurgus passiflorae), which exclusively pollinates the small flowers of the yellow passion flower. In addition, the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was recently documented in the park for the first time.

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