ABOL BioBlitz: DNA barcoding safeguards taxonomic knowledge

The Austrian Barcode of Life (ABOL) initiative uses DNA barcoding to safeguard and make publicly accessible rare knowledge on biodiversity generated in the course of local BioBlitz events
Local fisher presents catch of the day from lake Millstatt PHOTO CREDIT: Susanne Glatz-Jorde, Biosphere Reserve Nockberge

A BioBlitz is an event organized to survey the biodiversity of a designated area as fast and as comprehensively as possible1. Along with the general public, taxonomic experts from various fields, whether laymen or academics, swarm a location to record every identifiable species, usually within 24 hours.

The primary goal of these events is to increase bioliteracy—awareness of biodiversity and its importance for healthy, functioning ecosystems. We believe increased bioliteracy could transform societal perceptions of nature and, ultimately, humanity’s relationship with other species. Consequently, we deem it a prerequisite in our arsenal to abate the dramatic loss of biodiversity2. Additionally, the BioBlitz approach is becoming increasingly important for conservation efforts as it generates high-quality biodiversity data while simultaneously enhancing research capacity3.

In 2019, the Austrian Barcode of Life Initiative (ABOL) successfully introduced a new extended BioBlitz format to Austria—the ABOL BioBlitz—which combines existing collecting events with DNA barcoding. The organisms acquired and identified by experts during BioBlitz events are subsequently DNA barcoded. Importantly, specimens are photographed and stored in a scientific collection along with their associated metadata to be fully compliant with DNA barcoding standards for reference sequences.

The Great Lakes

Locations of the ‘Days of Biodiversity’ 2019 in Austria. The logos represent the organizing institutions.

Base map from d-maps.com

Although running for the first time, the ABOL BioBlitz efforts were very well received and highly successful. From 2000 individuals comprising 1400 taxa, approximately 1500 DNA barcodes were obtained and these data are now available on BOLD.

The number of individuals per higher taxon provided for DNA barcode analysis in the course of the ABOL BioBlitzes 2019. Sites indicated by colours.

Images from ClipArt ETC

In 2019, ABOL joined six ‘Days of Biodiversity’ with ABOL BioBlitzes in five different federal states of Austria. These events covered very different habitat types, from an organic farmstead in Upper Austria, a valley in the mountainous area in Tyrol, to annually organized events in protected areas like National Park Hohe Tauern or the Biosphere Reserves of Nockberge and Wienerwald. It is important to note that these events are only possible with the generosity and cooperation of the institutional hosts to whom we wish to extend our deepest thanks.

In total 54 taxonomic experts joined our efforts at these events. They not only provided us with samples from their collected material, along with the respective metadata and photos, but they also prepared reference individuals and assured their appropriate storage in public collections. After receiving samples from the experts, the ABOL team transferred tissue into microplates and shipped them to the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding (CCDB) in Canada for barcode analysis. We thank all the experts for their incredible efforts as well as staff at the CCDB for their obligingness and cooperation.

Day of Nature in the Biosphere Reserve Nockberge

The 4th Day of Nature named ‘Shores and mountain slopes of Lake Millstatt in Carinthia’ in the Biosphere Reserve Nockberge contributed substantially to the species inventory of the Carinthian part of the Biosphere Reserve. 45 taxonomic experts recorded 1166 species, some rare while others new records for the Biosphere Reserve Nockberge and for Carinthia. The event was organized by the team at the Biosphere Reserve, together with two ecological agencies, Ökoteam and E.C.O.

IMAGE: Local fisher presents catch of the day from lake Millstatt
CREDIT: Susanne Glatz-Jorde, Biosphere Reserve Nockberge

Day of Biodiversity in Upper Austria

The Day of Biodiversity in Upper Austria, organized by the Naturschutzbund Oberösterreich and the Biologiezentrum of the Upper Austrian State museums, took place around the Mühlbergerhof, an organic farmstead covering around 20 ha of species-rich grassland, pastures, and deciduous forest. In addition to the species inventory, excursions with different topics (e.g. moths and bats, plants, fungi and lichens, insects) were offered to the public.

IMAGE: Members of the ABOL coordination team examine collected insects from Mühlbergerhof
CREDIT: Heidi Kurz, Naturschutzbund OÖ

Day of Biodiversity in the Biosphere Reserve Wienerwald

The annual Day of Biodiversity in the Biosphere Reserve Wienerwald took place in 2019 in Pressbaum, Lower Austria. Within 24 hours, 1151 species were recorded. This data forms a valuable basis for scientific research and nature conservation activities in the Biosphere Reserve. Excursions led by experts explored water insects, plants, and birds. More than 30 stands provided information on various topics for adults and children. The festival of biodiversity was completed with regional food, kid’s programs and an open-air concert.

IMAGE: ABOL information stand at the festival of biodiversity in Pressbaum
CREDIT: Michaela Sonnleitner

Day of Biodiversity in Vienna

The Day of Biodiversity in Vienna was the 1st transnational event of its kind within the Interreg project CITY NATURE jointly organized by the Vienna municipality (MA22), the University of Natural Resources & Life Sciences (BOKU), and Bratislava, Slovakia. The collecting event around the BOKU area was complemented by excursions exploring birds, plants, insects & mammals.

IMAGE: Group photo from the closing event with project partner from Bratislava at the Day of Biodiversity in Vienna CREDIT: Barbara Reinwein, MA22

Day of Biodiversity in Tyrol

During the Day of Biodiversity in Tyrol, the Brandenberg Valley attracted many experts and visitors with its diverse natural habitat. A highlight of the event was the demonstration of different types of light traps catching night-active insects. Experts held lectures on butterflies, which fascinated children and adults. Arctia matronula, a rare and locally distributed Noctuidae was among the observed species. The days of biodiversity in Tyrol are organized by the Tyrolean State Museums, the University of Innsbruck and the State of Tyrol.

IMAGE: Expert demonstrates light traps and explains nocturnal butterflies
CREDIT: Michaela Sonnleitner

Day of Biodiversity in the National Park Hohe Tauern

The motto of the 13th Day of Biodiversity in the National Park Hohe Tauern was Summit of biodiversity at the foot of the Großglockner (the highest mountain in Austria). More than 60 experts investigated the species inventory of the Gössnitztal, an elongated alpine valley up to more than 2000 m and the surroundings of Heiligenblut in Carinthia. In addition to plants, insects, birds etc., bats were observed in different altitudes and their call sequences recorded. The event was perfectly organized by the Team of the National Park.

IMAGE: Group photo from the Day of Biodiversity in the National Park Hohe Tauern in Heiligenblut with Großglockner in the background.
CREDIT: Manfred Schmucker

Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, some of the 2020 ‘Days of Biodiversity’ were cancelled or postponed to 2021, while some will take place but with great care. For the future, we hope to be able to increase the number of participants and, ultimately, the data collected.

The concerted actions of the ABOL team at the ‘Days of Biodiversity’ significantly enhance the value and reach of these local BioBlitz events. For example, our efforts contribute to the completion of DNA barcode reference databases, important resources for society in the long term. They also support taxonomic research by providing the genetic resources important to the morphological determination of species. Additionally, we significantly promote these events amongst the public, raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity as well as build and strengthen bonds within the biodiversity community by enabling a process of mutual learning between cross-disciplinary experts.

As events this past year have shown, combining a BioBlitz with DNA barcoding is a very successful way to obtain both taxonomic and barcode data as well as integrate experts, especially for national DNA barcoding initiatives, which are not always fully funded, as is the case in Austria.

These events also foster a greater appreciation of biodiversity and ecosystems amongst the public and, therefore, are a very successful approach to increase bioliteracy. The currently ongoing biodiversity crisis implies rapidly growing importance of biodiversity data. As taxonomic expertise is increasingly rare in the academic environment, it is becoming more dependent on nature enthusiasts. This knowledge of biodiversity has always received too little attention, although a substantial part of it is held outside of academic institutions. Therefore, we wish to emphasize, that increased appreciation of nature should go hand in hand with that of private taxonomic expertise. ABOL BioBlitzes take all this into account.


1. Baker G.M., Duncan N., Gostomski T., Horner M.A., Manski D. (2014). The bioblitz: Good science, good outreach, good fun. Park Science 31(1): 39–45.
2. IPBES (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz and H. T. Ngo (eds.) Bonn, IPBES secretariat.
3. Parker S.S., Pauly G.B., Moore J., Fraga N.S., Knapp J.J., Principe Z., Brown B.V., Randall J.M., Cohen B.S. Wake T.A. (2018). Adapting the bioblitz to meet conservation needs. Conservation Biology 32(5): 1007–1019. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13103

Written by

Michaela Sonnleitner

Michaela Sonnleitner

Sabine Schoder

Sabine Schoder

Oliver Macek

Oliver Macek

Nikolaus U. Szucsich

Nikolaus U. Szucsich

Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria

August 24, 2020

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