It has the potential to make increasingly important contributions to our knowledge of biodiversity, to increase the sharing of this knowledge, and eventually to track long-term changes in biodiversity. The project could also be expanded to other taxa.
An alternative approach to engaging and educating the public about local biodiversity is to compile web sites showing only the species likely to be seen locally. By cutting down on the number of choices, this makes it much easier for amateurs to learn identification. With some other local photographers, Ron Hemberger, Hartmut Wisch, and I have compiled a web site on local (Orange County) arthropods that contains over 760 species pages and is one of the most complete displays of local arthropods to be found anywhere (Bryant, 2007a). I have also compiled a web site on the local intertidal animals, based on my own photographs and containing over 90 species pages (Bryant, 2007a). These projects have taught me and the other photographers a great deal about local biodiversity, and the web sites are used as field guides for untold numbers of the public who are curious or even worried about some of the creatures they encounter.
Orange County Birding (http://fog.ccsf.cc.ca.us/~jmorlan/ora.htm) provides a forum for reporting and discussing bird sightings in Orange County. Over 450 bird species have been recorded in the county. A special forum for reporting vagrants is the Orange County Rare Bird Alert (http://www.virtualbirder.com/vbirder/realbirds/rbas/CA.html#CAOC); 24 rare species were recorded during one of the most recent weeks.
Some of the more conspicuous plants and animals are observed and counted annually by coordinated efforts across wide geographic areas. The July 4th butterfly counts in North America, organized by the North American Butterfly Association (http://www.naba.org/counts.html), are a good example. These are usually carried out by small teams of volunteers, each led by at least one expert in the local butterfly fauna. Each team designs a transect within a 15-mile diameter count circle and counts and identifies all butterflies observed from the transect, usually once per year on or about July 4th. In 2006, 483 counts were held in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The data are published annually and provide a wealth of information on population trends and geographical distribution of the species. Species diversity and abundance vary, of course, with location. The all-time record for most species on a California count was 78 species in Yreka, California, in 1991. Some species have population booms in some years and busts in others, making long-term trends difficult to document.
Our local counts (Upper Newport Bay, Orange County, California) have been taking place since 1987 and are unfortunately showing a dis-