Vascular Plant and Lichen Biodiversity of the Canadian Arctic
Arctic regions of the world are among the most rapidly changing on the planet, in response to global climate change, substantial changes to Arctic vegetation are being documented by scientists. Understanding the composition and distribution of the Arctic flora in the past and present is critical to documenting change in the future. This research program aims to increase our knowledge of the Canadian Arctic flora through floristic and systematic studies of Arctic vascular plants and lichens. We are working to document where Arctic vascular plant and lichen species occur in time and space, to increase knowledge of their identities (i.e., taxonomy), building on the substantial body of work that has been contributed by researchers in the past, and to understand the evolutionary history of a subset of the flora. Such research is essential in serving as a basis for biodiversity, ecological, conservation, and environmental impact studies. This project will provide comprehensive baseline data on Arctic lichens and vascular plants (taxonomy, distribution, ecology), with the goal of producing a complete flora. It builds on our extensive, ongoing work on the Arctic flora (see summary of our recent research progress in Appendix B), and continues the strong, century-long tradition of Arctic botany at the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), the only Canadian institution with major plant and lichen systematic research activities in the Arctic.
Detailed information of the taxonomy and distributions of Arctic flora is necessary to understand potential impacts of environmental change on Arctic terrestrial ecosystems. Unfortunately, most previous regional Arctic floras are now out of print and very out of date, and there is no single publication or digital resource available that can provide up-to-date knowledge on the Canadian
Although the Arctic region is a major part of Canadian natural heritage, with the area above tree line in Canada comprising approximately 40% of the country, a flora treating all the vascular plants across the whole Canadian Arctic region has never been produced. The objectives of our research are to revise, develop, increase and disseminate the taxonomic knowledge base for the Arctic flora. Our research focus is broad, examining the big picture of understanding Arctic plant and lichen biodiversity in Canada: what are the species, and where do they occur? Our immediate objective is to synthesize existing collection-based knowledge, and to gather new knowledge on Arctic plants and lichens by undertaking work in areas of the Canadian Arctic that are botanically poorly known.
Vascular Plants: We are conducting field work in botanically understudied areas of the Canadian Arctic to develop new and comprehensive baseline data for these areas, contributing to our understanding of species distributions and diversity in the Canadian Arctic as a whole. Our eight Arctic field seasons since 2008 have resulted in over 10000 new plant collections, which are deposited in the National Herbarium and other herbaria in Canada and internationally. We also collect silica-gel dried material for every collection of Arctic plant and lichen for use in molecular research. For each area we work in, we aim to produce a detailed floristic account of the vascular plants of the area, based on all collections made there, including ours and those made by previous researchers.
Lichens: In the Canadian Arctic, many lichens are conspicuous and abundant. As a result, the large charismatic species have been somewhat widely collected by expedition teams sampling opportunistically, but most of the region has not been examined by a professional lichenologist. Many lichen species are inconspicuous and often overlooked, and while 1750 lichens have been reported in the circumpolar Arctic, only 1026 species are known from the North American Arctic. The similar large-scale environmental conditions throughout the Arctic suggest that the 724 species occurring elsewhere are likely in the Canadian Arctic. Substantial work remains in order to understand lichen diversity in the Canadian Arctic.
2020 Fieldwork in Nunavut
In 2020 we will partner with Nunavut Parks and Special Places to conduct a botanical inventory of Agguttinni Territorial Park near Clyde River, Baffin Island. We plan to conduct field work in July and August studying the plants and lichens in the Park and in the vicinity of the community of Clyde River (see map in Appendix A). Specifically, we will work in and around:
1.Clyde River and surrounding area [70.4747N°, -68.5865W°] 5 July – 10 August 2020 (approximate time, before and after fieldwork in the Park).
2.Agguttinni Territorial Park proposed shelter locations opposite Sillem Island on Gibbs Fiord [70.8488°N, -72.2381°W] and at the head of Gibbs Fiord [70.610589°, -72.551060°], 12-18 July 2020.
3.Agguttinni Territorial Park proposed shelter locations at Tingijattut (Walker Arm) [70.6186N°, -71.5923W°]and Swiss Bay on Kangiqtualuk Uqquqti (formerly Sam Ford Fiord) [70.5473N°, -71.0296W°], 19-25 July 2020.
4.Agguttinni Territorial Park proposed shelter locations at the head of Arviqtujuq Kangiqtua (formerly Eglinton Fiord) [70.485771°, -70.521922°] and Caribou Pass [70.3718N°, -70.5935W°], 26-1 Aug 2020.
At sites 2, 3, and 4, we will camp at one (or both) of the proposed shelter sites and comprehensively survey the area during the week we plan to spend in that part of the park.
Previous collecting within the proposed park boundaries has been very limited. During the 1950 Baffin Island Expedition led by P.D. Baird, V.C. Wynne-Edwards made scattered collections at the head of Arviqtujuq Kangiqtua (formerly Eglinton Fiord), while Hans Rothesberger and Pierre Dansereau made a few collections at Swiss Bay, Arviqtujuq Kangiqtua, and Gee Lake in the interior of the proposed park.
In 2012, Julian Starr, then with the Canadian Museum of Nature, made two collections of Carex in the areas around Swiss Bay, while on a Students on Ice Expedition. In 2017 Yemisi Dare, a Canadian Museum of Nature Scientist on the Canada C3 expedition, made 36 vascular plant and 32 lichen collections at Tingijattut on the western arm of Kangiqtualuk Uqquqti (formerly Sam Ford Fiord) and at Ravenscraig Harbour on the eastern shore of Arviqtujuq Kangiqtua (formerly Eglinton Fiord), representing the most intense collecting effort in the park area to date.
This proposal therefore focuses on providing the first comprehensive documentation on the vascular plant and lichen diversity of Agguttinni Territorial Park. Comprehensive botanical knowledge of the park is important to understand the natural history of the area and track future changes in species distribution, as well as to inform management decisions.
1.Baird, P.D., Kranck, E.H., Goldthwait, R.P., Eade, K.E., Ward, W.H., Riley, G.C., Orvig, S., Montgomery, M.R., Dansereau, P. and Hale, M.E., 1950. Baffin Island expedition, 1950: a preliminary report. Arctic, 3(3), pp.130-149.
Our overall goals are to gain a more complete understanding of the present state of the distribution and composition of the Canadian arctic flora and to expand the knowledge base for understanding the broad-scale impacts of environmental change on the arctic flora. Specifically in 2020 our goal is to initiate a detailed botanical inventory of Agguttinni Territorial Park.
The data and specimens collected on this trip will be used in support of several research projects:
1.a floristic study of the collected areas, published in a peer-reviewed journal;
2.the Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska project, led by the Canadian Museum of Nature, which will treat all vascular plants in the entire Canadian Arctic and the North Slope of Alaska (http://arcticplants.myspecies.info/)
3.DNA barcoding studies of the Arctic flora (e.g., Saarela et al. 2013);
4.Ongoing and future taxonomic/systematic studies of Arctic lichen and plant species. Once incorporated into herbaria, the specimens will be available to all scientists for study, and the data will be shared internationally through digital biodiversity repositories, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Collections Online website at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Management Implications: Our research will provide new and up-to-date information on vascular plant and lichen diversity in Agguttinni Territorial Park, all of which will be made available to Nunavut Parks and Special Places and the community of Clyde River. This baseline information will inform future land management plans related to plants in the region and will providing data crucial to measuring the effects of climate change and development within the studied areas.
Our research will provide new and up-to-date information on lichen and vascular plant diversity in the Canadian High Arctic. This baseline information will inform future land management plans related to plants in the region, providing data crucial to measuring the effects of climate change and development within the studied areas.
Specimen Collecting Methods
We will undertake research in the vicinities of each site by foot, complete plant inventories of all lichens and vascular plants, and collect data on conservation status, ecology, distribution, and population variation as appropriate. All of these data will be useful for long-term monitoring of potential changes in species diversity in the future.
Approximately 1000 vascular plant specimens will be collected, photographed, and studied. Collections will be deposited at the National Herbarium of Canada (Canadian Museum of Nature), and duplicate specimens will be provided to Nunavut Parks and Special Places and also distributed to national and international herbaria, all contributing to the permanent scientific record documenting the distributions of Arctic lichen and plant species in time and space. As time permits we will make occasional collections of algae, fungi and bryophytes.
Lichen specimens are collected from the environment by hand, using a small knife, or by using a hammer and chisel for crustose (rock-growing) specimens. These lichens are dried in the field in paper bags. Vascular plant specimens are collected and placed in a plant press, the standard method that botanists have used for several centuries. Once collected, plant specimens are arranged onto sheets of newspaper, placed between two pieces of cardboard, piled up, placed in a plant press, and tightened with two straps. The specimens are flattened and dried in the press; once dry they will last for centuries when stored in a herbarium (dried plant collection).
For each collection event we:
Collect one to several individuals of a species (depending on the size of an individual, and how common the species is locally). If a species is not common, we collect only enough material to properly document its occurrence at the site. If a species is rare, we do not collect any specimens, and document its occurrence only with photographs.
Record detailed notes on the location of the species, its local growing conditions, and other species that grow at the site. For most collections we take photographs of the species growing in its natural state.
Preserve a small amount of tissue from the specimen in silica gel (a desiccant), which rapidly dries the genetic material in the leaf tissue in a way that is suitable for later study (e.g., DNA sequencing) in the molecular laboratory.