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From Treeline to Coast: Canadian Museum of Nature Leads Botanical Expedition in Nunavut

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 06/19/14 -- An underexplored area of mainland Nunavut is the target of a fieldwork expedition this July by botanists from the Canadian Museum of Nature. The four-member team will survey and collect hundreds of plants along a 40-km stretch of the Coppermine River in western Nunavut from June 28 to July 29.

The results of the expedition will contribute to an ambitious museum-led project to produce a current flora, or scientific reference, for an estimated 800 species of vascular plants in the Canadian Arctic and northern Alaska.

During the four weeks, the team will travel, via helicopter, to three main camp sites where they will fan out to survey the diversity of plant life and collect specimens. They will cover an area that transitions from the treeline, where forest gives way to tundra-like vegetation, to the mouth of the river and the coastal community of Kugluktuk.

"The treeline zone is where you can find species from the boreal forest co-existing with some plants from the southern Arctic," explains Dr. Jeff Saarela, a museum botanist co-leading the project with Dr. Lynn Gillespie. "We selected this area partly because we want to get a baseline record of what's there now, since species may change distribution with a warming climate. These changes are likely to be first noticed near the treeline."

All members of the team-which include research assistant Paul Sokoloff and DNA lab coordinator Roger Bull-have participated in previous field expeditions to the Arctic. They have inventoried plant species on Victoria Island, in Tuktut Nogait National Park and the Hornaday River in the Northwest Territories, and along the Soper River in southern Baffin Island.

Plant records from these sites were spotty or decades old, so the information gathered has contributed to new knowledge for the broader Arctic Flora project, which is filling in gaps about species distributions. Thousands of specimens from these expeditions- reflecting a range of diversity including willows, orchids, poppies, grasses and sedges-have been added to the museum's national Herbarium, which houses the best collection of Arctic plants in the world. Samples for DNA analysis are also part of the mix.

The Coppermine expedition will include an effort to locate a 100-year-old camp site from the Canadian Arctic Expedition, as well as an inventory of plants in the new Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park, located about 15 km south of Kugluktuk. Little is known about the plant life of this protected area, so records from the team's collecting will add to the park's knowledge of its flora. The expedition will conclude with a presentation of the team's findings to the residents of Kugluktuk. Funding for the Coppermine expedition comes from the Canadian Museum of Nature, as well as the Polar Continental Shelf Project of Natural Resources Canada, which provides logistical support.

The team will tweet during the expedition, hashtag #naturescience.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature:

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 10.5 million specimen collection, education programmes, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca. The museum is a leader in Arctic knowledge and exploration. Its collections of Arctic plants and Arctic fishes are considered the best in the world.

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