A Large-Scale, Multihabitat Inventory of the Phylum Tardigrada in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA: A Preliminary Report

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Conference Proceeding

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An All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) is underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), with the goal of attempting to identify all species of life in the 2000 km2 park. The GSMNP is a hotbed of biodiversity, a U.N. Biosphere Reserve, and one of the largest protected, deciduous forests in the temperate world. We have completed two field seasons of work on the tardigrades in the park (2001-2002). As of July 2003, we have collected 420 samples from soil/decomposed leaf litter, lichens and mosses on trees, and stream sediment and periphyton. A few samples from caves, bird nests, and lichens/mosses on rocks were also collected. Samples were taken from within permanent plots established for the ATBI, representing the major biological communities of the GSMNP. Tardigrades were extracted from samples using centrifugation with Ludox AM™, individually mounted on microscope slides in Hoyer's medium, and studied with phase contrast and DIC microscopy. We have examined 1524 slides from 60 samples as of July 2003. Prior to our work, only three species of tardigrades had been previously reported from a few samples in the park. We have now recorded 42 species, 8 of which we believe may be new to science. Species richness estimates were calculated using EstimateS 6 software for each of the major tardigrade habitats. Overall, we predict that there are 47 to 76 species in the GSMNP, with generally similar species richness in soil, lichen, moss, and stream habitats. Species richness estimates were also used to determine that the number of tardigrade species was greater in mosses at breast height on trees than in mosses at the base of trees.