I’ve written in a previous article on how science not communicated (i.e., not published) is science not finished; at the museum this often means telling both the public sphere and the academic world about our findings. While the former may take the form of museum exhibits, public presentations and blogs, the peer-reviewed journal article is still king of the latter.

A sparsely treed landscape.
Our trip to the Coppermine River, Nunavut, took us to the treeline, where white spruces (Picea glauca) dot the transitioning tundra. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Our research group’s latest open-access journal article is a complete, detailed checklist (with lots of colour photos) enumerating the vascular-plant flora of the lower Coppermine River, the focus of our 2014 collecting trip. By combining our over 1200 newly collected specimens with all previously collected specimens in herbaria across Canada, we now know that 300 vascular plant species can be found along this stretch of the river, making it one of the most species-rich areas known on mainland Nunavut.

Coppermine River, Nunavut.
Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park, straddling the lower Coppermine River, was found to be floristically rich and diverse. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Many of these new vascular plant records (56) are range extensions, which expand upon previous work and establish new native ranges for these plants.

Seven species are newly recorded for mainland Nunavut, and 14 additional species are recorded for the first time ever in the territory itself.

Composite: Three plants in situ.
New plant records documented in this paper include Carex gynocrates (top left, new to mainland Nunavut), Allium schoenoprasum (right, new to Nunavut), and Botrychium tunux (bottom left, new to Nunavut). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Notably, we found 207 vascular plant taxa (species, subspecies and varieties) in Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park, just south of Kugluktuk. This park, set aside for recreation and preservation because of its long, and sometimes bloody, history, can also be considered an important protected area for native vascular plants in the low Arctic.

Composite: Three plants in situ.
Other noteworthy records for Nunavut include Carex capitata (left, new to Nunavut), Cryptogramma stelleri (top right, new to mainland Nunavut), and Eremogone capillaris subsp. capillaris (bottom right, new to Nunavut). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Now that the paper has been published, the data and interpretation contained in this new contribution are out in the world for other scientists to read, reference, cite and (hopefully) use in the field.

The project may be over, but the specimens that we collected and the knowledge that we collated will be useful for decades to come. And as the Arctic field seasons go by, the museum’s botany team will continue to press plants, peer into microscopes, sequence DNA, publish results and widely share our findings for the benefit of everyone who wants to know.

After all, the museum’s collections and knowledge isn’t ours, it’s yours.

A man looks out of a helicopter window.
Jeff Saarela, Ph.D., our expedition leader and the lead author of the subsequent study, surveying the tundra for plant-rich helicopter landing sites. As the director of the museum’s Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, Jeff continues the museum’s tradition of excellence in Arctic research. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature