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Museum Botanist Joins Youth Expedition to Greenland, Iceland and Labrador

Lee Narraway © Students on Ice

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Dr. Starr shares some pointers about Arctic plants during a hike at Sunneshine Fiord on Baffin Island, Nunavut, as part of the 2008 Students on Ice expedition. The student is holding a plant called Carex nardina or nard sedge, an Arctic-alpine species now being studied by Starr’s master’s-degree student Wayne Sawtell.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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During the 2009 Students on Ice expedition, Dr. Starr poses near Cape Mercy, Baffin Island, Nunavut, at the entrance to Cumberland Sound.

Ottawa, July 22, 2011—For the third time in four years, Canadian Museum of Nature botanist Dr. Julian Starr will travel to the Arctic as a scientific advisor for an expedition led by Students on Ice (SOI).

The 2011 journey from July 23 to August 7 will take participants beyond Canadian waters to Iceland and Greenland, before heading to northern Labrador and Kuujjuak in Nunavik (northern Quebec).

Each year, SOI transports high-school students by ship to the polar regions where they learn about environmental issues in the presence of scientists, educators, artists and adventurers. Since 2001, the museum has partnered with this unique organization by sharing its scientific knowledge of Arctic flora and fauna.

During the trip, Starr will present a workshop about the biodiversity of plants, and how to collect and identify them. Day hikes among the fiords and mountains will offer numerous opportunities to explore the natural environment close-up.

Starr knows he is privileged to be among the group of experts that will share quarters with the more than 70 international students over two weeks. "It's my third time with the Students on Ice team and there are always new places to see and learn about," explains Starr, who splits his time as a research scientist for the museum and as a biology professor at the University of Ottawa. "As a teacher, I'll share my expertise about plants, but I will also have a chance to make some links with my own research."

That research has taken him to parts of North America (including Baffin Island), Europe and Argentina for fieldwork. His interests lie in the biodiversity and evolution of flowering plants, with a special focus on Carex from the sedge family Cyperaceae. Sedges are widespread, making up 10% of Canada's native flora. And the Carex group itself has the largest number of species (in a single genus) that can be found in the polar regions. This diversity serves as a useful tool to answer broader questions about changes to biodiversity over time.

Starr is specifically interested in comparing different populations in a species, as well as the history behind how they came to be in a specific location. He is using the museum's DNA lab to tease apart variations in genetic diversity, especially among bipolar species of Carex that occur in both the Arctic and Tierra del Fuego (the most southerly area of South America).

The SOI trip provides some good opportunities to add to this knowledge. So, when not admiring the Arctic landscape or interacting with students, Starr will have his nose close to the ground, on the lookout for some new Carex species. These may be added to the museum's collections, or help further his own research. One species known to be in the sub-Arctic terrain of Iceland and Greenland is already on his hot list: Carex capitata.

Starr is aware that plants themselves may not catch the undivided attention of teenagers, who will undoubtedly gravitate to their own areas of interest over the two weeks. But for those swayed by things botanical, he will be ready. "They can join me on hikes and I'll point out interesting plants, tell them stories and share some of my knowledge about botany."

During the expedition, Starr will contribute a number of stories to the museum's blog. Read them at canadianmuseumofnature.wordpress.com. Follow the overall journey at www.studentsonice.com/arctic2011.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural science. It promotes awareness of Canada's natural heritage through signature and travelling exhibitions, public education programmes, on-going scientific research, a dynamic web site, and the maintenance of a 10.5-million-specimen collection.

A founding member of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada, the Museum is working with partners to expand its national service and to develop national programmes about the natural environment.

Previous museum participants on Students on Ice expeditions have included marine biologist Dr. Kathy Conlan, botanist Dr. Lynn Gillespie, and diatom and water-quality expert Paul Hamilton.

Media Contacts

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

Laura Sutin
Media Relations/Communications Officer
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.566.4793
lsutin@mus-nature.ca