Arctic Field Trip: Studying Flora and Eider Ducks

Summer is upon us, and it is once again time to head to Canada’s Arctic for a month to study plant biodiversity.

This year Roger Bull and I will be working along southern Baffin Island, Nunavut, in and around the community of Cape Dorset, and on numerous small islands in Hudson Strait northeast of Cape Dorset. Hudson Strait links the Atlantic Ocean to Hudson Bay, bordered to the north by Baffin Island and to the south by northern Quebec.

Maps showing the study area.

Inset maps: Nunavut. The black rectangle indicates our general study area on Baffin Island, also shown in the main map.
Main map: Specific areas of study are outlined in red.
Inset map: Algkalv and Dr. Blofeld based on original by Yug. Small inset map: EOZyo. Two maps put together by Ruhrfisch. (Licensed: CC BY-SA 3.0). Modified by J.M. Saarela. Main map: Imagery © 2015, IBCAO, Landsat, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO. Map data © 2015 Google. Modified by J.M. Saarela.

The logistics of this year’s expedition are a bit different than our previous trips. We will be in the field with a small team of Environment Canada researchers engaged in studies of Common and King Eiders. This research programme, led by Grant Gilchrist, Ph.D., from the National Wildlife Research Centre, has been studying eider colonies in the eastern Arctic for nearly 20 years. Their research questions are diverse, and include investigating the effects of polar-bear predation on eider nests as sea ice diminishes and identifying key sea-bird marine habitats.

For the first four days of the trip, Roger and I will explore and document plant biodiversity in and around the hamlet of Cape Dorset. There is a fairly good record of plant diversity in the immediate area. However, most of the existing collections were made in the 1920s and 1930s and have imprecise locality information, and we do not know if the record is complete for the area. I suspect it is not. Our main goal there will be to ensure that all plant species in and around the community are documented by specimens.

View of Cape Dorset in summer.

The hamlet of Cape Dorset. It is on Dorset Island, off the southern tip of Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. Image: Daniel Christopher © Daniel Christopher (licensed: CC BY-SA 3.0)

We will also explore nearby Mallikjuaq Territorial Park (Mallikjuaq means “big wave” in Inuktitut), a small park of some 18 square kilometres, where some collections were gathered in 1970. The park spans Mallik Island and Cape Dorset Island, divided by a narrow inlet that can be crossed on foot at low tide. This will be the third territorial park in Nunavut that we will explore botanically. (Read about our earlier trips at Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park in 2014 and at Katannilik Territorial Park in 2012).

We will then meet up with the eider team, and together over three weeks will visit about 30 islands in Hudson Strait ranging in size from 0.1 to 5 km2. We will travel by boat from Cape Dorset to the islands, on which we will camp.

Eider ducks prefer to nest on islands with a lot of vegetation, and the eider team hypothesises that these habitats may have been created by the birds over time through nutrient deposition. To test this hypothesis, they will conduct biodiversity surveys of islands with and without eiders, and collect data on insects, soil, pond water, pond sediments and vegetation.

An eider nest with eggs.

Eider duck (Somateria sp.) eggs. Eiders typically make their nests on small islands, close to the water. The nest is a depression in the ground lined with sticks and down. Image: Roger D. Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

That’s where we come in. We will work with the eider team to characterise the vascular plant, bryophyte, fungi and lichen biodiversity at their study sites. We will also conduct broader and comprehensive plant-biodiversity surveys of each island, documenting all species with collections, which will be deposited at the Canadian Museum of Nature in the National Herbarium of Canada.

None of the islands that we plan to visit has been explored previously by botanists, and there is no information about plant diversity in these difficult-to-access and little-known areas. The new information on the vegetation will contribute to both our understanding of eider-duck habitat and the diversity and distribution of the Arctic flora in Hudson Strait.

This entry was posted in Arctic, Collections, Fieldwork, Plants and Algae, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Arctic Field Trip: Studying Flora and Eider Ducks

  1. Pingback: Plants to Papers | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  2. Pingback: Arctic Field Trip: Ice in July Makes for Resourceful Researchers | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  3. Pingback: Summertime Fieldwork in Canada’s Accessible Arctic | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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