Wappapello Bioblitz Turns Up Plant-Animal Hybrid

MASHUP, Mo. —A recent “bioblitz” at Lake Wappapello turned up hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants—and something altogether different.

A bioblitz brings together professional and amateur naturalists to conduct one- or two-day inventories of as many life forms as possible in a selected area. The result is a snapshot of an area’s biological diversity at a moment in time. Bioblitzes conducted in the same area over time reveal changes in plant and animal abundance and diversity. Occasionally they result in surprising discoveries.

Lake Wappapello Bioblitz organizer Dee Lister is an associate professor of taxonomy at Southern Ozarks University. She said the Lake Wappapello area was chosen because it lies on an ecotone—a transition area between two or more areas with different physical characteristics and biological communities.

Lister said southeastern Missouri is a fascinating place from an ecological perspective.

“It has a lot in common with the Ozarks, which is an amazingly diverse biome in its own right,” said Lister. “But the southeastern edge of the bioblitz area is within spitting distance of the swamps and sand prairies of the Mississippi embayment. And at its northern end it’s very close to the incredibly ancient igneous rock outcrops of the St. Francois Mountains. The area has species from each of those biomes. In that kind of ecological melting pot, we knew we would find some really interesting stuff.”

The Wappapello Bioblitz March 23 and 24 recorded 911 plant and animal species. Included in that total were:

  • 47 mammals
  • 98 birds
  • 48 reptiles
  • 31 amphibians
  • 165 fishes
  • 250 invertebrate animals, such as insects, spiders, mollusks and protozoans
  • 272 plants, including fungi

NOT included in this list was an extremely odd-looking organism discovered by Bryan Morelli, a herpetologist with the Arkansas Biological Survey. He and his wife, Zoe, were looking for salamander larvae in about four feet of water near the northern end of Lake Wappapello when he spied something that looked familiar in a very unfamiliar place.

“A big ash tree had fallen into the lake,” said Morelli. “The top was completely underwater, and there, growing out of a slender branch, was a Morchella esculenta.”

Or at least that is what he initially thought it wa—an edible mushroom commonly found in the spring throughout the Midwest. But when he reached into the water and grasped it, the object felt distinctly jellylike.

“I kind of jerked my hand back,” said Morelli. “I didn’t know what to think at that point. So I broke off the branch it