Arctic ecosystems are experiencing increased rates of environmental and ecological change. Vegetation cover is increasing, permafrost – ground that used to be permanently frozen – is thawing, and the species composition of tundra ecosystems is changing. This summer, I travelled to Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island in the Canadian Yukon to participate in an ecological research expedition. My work focused on how the larger landscape context influences the number and types of species we find at long-term ecological monitoring sites.
With the help of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was able to survey the botanical composition of two different vegetation communities and collect landscape-scale data of the environments where those species are found using drones. By combining on the ground biodiversity monitoring with aerial imagery, we can improve our understanding of how the Arctic is responding to global change and better predict what species might colonise tundra landscapes in the future.
Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island is a magical place to work in, and I loved learning more about the flora, fauna and people of the island.
To find out more about how biodiversity is changing in the Arctic and beyond, check out:
Team Shrub: https://teamshrub.com
My website: https://gndaskalova.com
Twitter: @TeamShrub & @gndaskalova
In the summer, the tundra is full of colour. Varying shades of white, yellow, orange, pink and blue hint to the diversity of plants that together make up the flora of Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island.
A portrait with a pointframe and a pin flag – the key equipment for our plant species composition protocol! We lay out the pointframe above the plants and at each point where the strings cross, we drop the pin and record all the species the pin touches. In 2018, we dropped the pin over 1200 times!
Pointframing in action! We lay out the pointframe above the plants and at each point where the strings cross, we drop the pin and record all the species the pin touches. In 2018, we dropped the pin over 1200 times!
Arctic poppies (Papaver radicatum) always stand out among the tundra with their bright yellow colour.
Small blacktip ragworts (Senecio lugens) like areas that have been recently disturbed, such as rocky slopes where soil slides down often.
Tall Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium aconitum) was an existing find for us – this is the first time we have seen this species near our long-term ecological monitoring plots, and this was the only individual we found!
Alongside plant monitoring, we also record the variety of herbivores on the island and their abundances. Through selective grazing (eating more of their favourite species), herbivores such as the muskoxen pictured here, influence the composition of plant communities in the Arctic.
Our field season on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island featured at least 14 different snowy owls. Owl population numbers fluctuate depending on the availability of their main food sources – voles and lemmings. A peak year for voles and lemmings, in 2018 we saw snowy owls every day as we made our way to our monitoring sites. Though for us snowy owls became a common sight, much about this Arctic-roaming species remains unknown, including the limits of its breeding and migratory ranges.
A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks along the beach near the Pauline Cove settlement on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island. Here, red foxes feed on lemmings and voles. Since 2018 is a peak year for rodent population numbers, we got to witness many successful hunts by this blonde-tinted fox, and fox prints on the beach in the mornings alluded to all the action happening at nighttime.
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