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Canadian Museum of Nature Leads Botanical Expedition to Nunavut

Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

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The museum team during fieldwork on Victoria Island, Northwest Territories, in July 2010. From left: Dr. Lynn Gillespie, Roger Bull, Jennifer Doubt, Dr. Jeff Saarela, Paul Sokoloff and guide Gary Okheena.

Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Jeff Saarela collects plants during a 2010 field expedition to Victoria Island, NWT.

Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Lynn Gillespie scans the terrain at a field camp on Victoria Island, Nunavut, in 2008. The plant press in the foreground is a common tool that is used to preserve plant specimens.

Ottawa, June 22, 2012—A research team from the Canadian Museum of Nature is heading to southern Baffin Island in July to collect and study Arctic plants. The expedition, from June 26 to July 28, is part of a five-year project to produce a current and comprehensive flora, or scientific reference, for vascular plants of the Canadian Arctic and northern Alaska.

The four researchers will travel by inflatable canoe along the 50 km Soper Heritage River that passes through Nunavut's Katannilik Territorial Park. The river extends south from Iqaluit to the south coast of Baffin Island near the community of Kimmirut. Over three weeks, the researchers will camp at sites along the river to survey and document the plant life, as well as to collect specimens for research and for the museum's national herbarium (plant collection).

"Through this scientific expedition, we will add new records for plants in a part of the Arctic that has not been well surveyed," says Jeff Saarela, Ph.D., and co-leader of the fieldwork along with the museum's Lynn Gillespie, Ph.D. "It's a step in filling the gaps of known plant diversity across Canada's Arctic, which provides new baseline information at a time when the Arctic environment is being affected by climate change."

Joining Saarela and Gillespie on the journey are research assistant Paul Sokoloff and the museum's DNA lab coordinator, Roger Bull. All have participated in previous field expeditions in Canada's North, most recently to Victoria Island and Tuktut Nogait National Park in the Northwest Territories.

The Soper region of Baffin Island was selected because its plant diversity has not been well studied. Some collecting was completed by the Canadian Museum of Nature's Susan Aiken, Ph.D., in 2003, but the most complete collections are decades old, having been acquired in the 1930s by J. Dewey Soper, a biologist and explorer after whom the river is named.

The results of the Soper expedition will contribute to the Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska Project. This five-year scientific initiative kicked off in 2011 under the direction of the Canadian Museum of Nature, in collaboration with scientific partners from Canada (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Manitoba, and Université de Montréal) as well as Norway and Alaska, U.S.A.. Each partner brings knowledge about specific plant groups, as well as access to Arctic-based collections.

The Arctic Flora project is significant in providing up-to-date species and range records for the estimated 800 vascular plants in the Arctic. Plants are found in all Arctic ecosystems and they are known to be affected by changes in temperature and moisture. As the climate changes, plants may migrate or distributions may be altered.

Funding for the Soper-River expedition comes from the Canadian Museum of Nature, as well as the Polar Continental Shelf Project of Natural Resources Canada, which provides logistical support.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. It promotes awareness of Canada's natural heritage through permanent and travelling exhibitions, public education programmes, active scientific research, a dynamic web site, and the maintenance of a 10.5 million-specimen collection. The museum has been involved in Arctic research for almost 100 years, dating to its leadership with the first Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913–1918. The museum's herbarium holds the best collection of Canadian Arctic plants in the world.

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Media Contacts

Dan Smythe
Senior Media Relations Officer
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.566.4781
dsmythe@mus-nature.ca