We all feel an unnatural distance because we can’t come to the park, yet we can still learn and connect with the natural world. To give you a daily dose of the park’s magic, starting on April 1, we will be sharing our Smokies Species-a-Day perpetual calendar on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites, turning the virtual page for you at 7:30 a.m. each morning just as you begin your day. What a perfect way to tune in to the great outdoors, engage with your family during breakfast, and share an experience with your virtual classroom—one species at a time. And if you decide you’d rather have the calendar in your home during these days, place your order online and our warehouse staff will get it right out to you. Read on to learn the backstory of how the calendar came to be.
By Emma DuFort
As a publications specialist at Great Smoky Mountains Association, I do graphic design and illustration for Smokies Life, Smokies Guide, and all kinds of other GSMA media. I’ve spent most of my life in Michigan but grew up visiting the Smokies every year and finally took the plunge and moved to Tennessee after graduating from college in 2016.
What is it that made the Smokies irresistible to me and sets it apart from anywhere else? Well, it’s not just our robust population of black bears and tumbling waterfalls. We have some of the most impressive biological diversity anywhere in the country! To put it in perspective, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to about 10 times as many tree species as Yellowstone National Park. (Here are some cool biodiversity maps that let you compare across the country.)
Who keeps track of that biodiversity, and why does it matter? Let’s tackle the second question first.
Most of the 20,000+ species that reside in GSMNP are lifeforms you wouldn’t notice on a casual hike unless you were looking very, very closely. They are, as conservationist E. O. Wilson puts it, “the little things that run the Earth.” The important ecosystem services these beetles, algae, mites, lichens, and others perform enable the thriving web of life on which charismatic species like bear and elk ultimately depend. Researching these understudied species helps us better understand how to make good management decisions in the Smokies and beyond. Well-managed ecosystems contribute to lower pest populations, less waste in your local farmers’ pastures, and thriving pollinator habitats, just to name a few perks—not to mention captivating natural spaces for us and future generations to enjoy.
Now for the answer to the first question: Since 1998, Discover Life in America (DLIA), one of the park’s nonprofit partners, has managed the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI). This herculean initiative aims to catalog every species living in the park. In those 20+ years, the ATBI has doubled the number of species known to live here and documented 1,000 species entirely new to science.
DLiA depends heavily on donations to fund the grants they distribute to scientists and researchers. But in the midst of this public health crisis, they’ve been forced to cancel major fundraising events. However, there’s still a way you can support DLiA and the important work they do! I’ve helped create two GSMA products with proceeds that benefit our partner.
The first is a DLiA t-shirt I illustrated in 2017. The design features a black bear and several other iconic Smokies species. Can you name them all? This heathered charcoal gray shirt is a comfy cotton-polyester blend and one of our best-selling items.
You may recognize the second product, as it’s received some publicity recently as an honorable mention winner for Innovative Product of the Year from the Public Lands Alliance. The Smokies Species-a-Day perpetual calendar is a desk calendar that highlights a different species in the park every day. It’s a great way to take in a little bit of the park each day even when we can’t physically be there. And because it is perpetual, any time of the year is a good time to order it for yourself or give it to someone else.
Of course, you can always give directly to DLiA and learn more about the ATBI here. Thank you for all you do to support our wondrous diversity of life!
Pictured: The Smokies Species-a-Day Perpetual calendar (above on right); DLiA t-shirt Emma DuFort illustrated in 2017 (on left)