North

Researchers study plants in Arviat to create Arctic flora guide

'The Arctic especially is a place we still have a lot of gaps in our knowledge,' says botanist

Paul Sokoloff

Paul Sokoloff with the research team collects plant samples at Fockler Creek in Nunavut in 2014. The team is going to Arviat this week to continue its work. (Roger D. Bull/Canadian Museum of Nature.)

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A team of botanists is flying into Arviat this week to study the flora in the region as part of a larger project to create a comprehensive guide to plants in the Canadian Arctic.

"It's really important to know what plants we have all across Canada and the Arctic especially is a place we still have a lot of gaps in our knowledge," said Lynn Gillespie, a research scientist with the team.

Gillespie said botanists still have a great deal to learn about Arctic plants.

Ultimately, the group from Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature hopes to conduct a botanical inventory of Nunavut and the Arctic parts of the Northwest Territories to create a scientific guide as well as a public guide.

Lynne Gillespie

'We record and collect all the different kinds of plants in the area,' says Lynn Gillespie. (Canadian Museum of Nature researchers)

"We record and collect all the different kinds of plants in the area and this would be different kinds of mosses, lichens, ferns and flowering plants," said Gillespie.

Once basic data is collected, the researchers will be able to study changes to Arctic plant life due to climate change.

Arviat is an especially important area to botanists because of its proximity to the tree line, said Gillespie. 

"As plants move North, Arviat may be one of the first places that the vegetation may change."

Tapping into local knowledge

Gillespie said the community likely has tremendous knowledge about the vegetation in the area, but scientists have yet to collect that information.

To tap into local knowledge and assist with the work, the team is hiring a local research assistant, holding an open house in Arviat, an elders workshop, and employing polar bear watchers to protect them from the animals who frequent the area.

As part of the project, the team will also be giving scientific names to any new plants they discover, which will be different than their traditional Inuktitut names.

"While those common names are very, very useful and very important for the community, they're sometimes difficult if you want to communicate the name of the plant or the kind of plant you have if you're going to the Arctic in Russia or Alaska," said Gillespie.

Gillespie added a scientific name is important because each different kind of plant has only one scientific name, but it could have many different common names.

"It's our way of cataloguing the plant species of an area. But it's not necessarily the name that the average person would know a plant by."

Botanists in the field

Gillespie said the community likely has tremendous knowledge about the vegetation in the area, but scientists have yet to collect that information. (Canadian Museum of Nature )

Proposed territorial park

In addition to working in Arviat, the team is also combing through an area near the hamlet known as 'Nuvuk' or Eskimo Point, that's being considered for designation as a new territorial park.

"They'll be using the data that we get to help decide on the park and the interpretation of the park," said Gillespie.

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