by: Paul Sokoloff
Botanist, Canadian Museum of Nature
When we set out from the Ocean Endeavour, choppy waves breaking against the bow of the Zodiac, the weather was gray and spitting; a dramatic, gloomy backdrop against the snow-capped mountains and glacial valleys of Bylot Island. It was only after we had landed, and split our nearly 200-member strong expedition into a variety of different workshops that the clouds began to part, covering the hills and shores of our landfall inlet, just south of Cape Graham Moore, with the most amazing golden light. It was the perfect weather for a bit of botanical collecting.
The Canadian Museum of Nature and Students on Ice have been partners since SOI’s very first expedition. Our botanists, palaeontologists, ichthyologists, mammologists, mineralogists, exhibit designers, and corporate officers have all staffed expeditions, serving as educators, mentors, guides, and in many cases, students ourselves. Over the course of many expeditions, CMN researchers have helped interpret the biology and geology of the Arctic through interpretation on the land and workshops onboard. As a natural history museum with nearly 10 million specimens in our holdings, collections-based research is what we do best – and a great way to introduce expedition students to this research is to get them involved in collecting for the museum itself.
Back at Cape Graham Moore, we did just that. After a round-circle discussion touching an a wide-range of topics – the ethics of collecting, invasive species, traditional knowledge – we broke up to search out, identify, and collect the plants carpeting the tundra. And what a haul it was! This amazing group of students found dozens of different vascular plant, moss, lichen, and algae species, all of which we named for the group, and them placed in our collecting bag for transport back to the ship, where we would process and press the collections back in our sea-going lab.
We collected at three additional sites during the expedition: the community of Pond Inlet, on the gravel moraine of Devon Island, and on the windy, grey beaches of Beechey Island. In total, our group added 51 new vascular plants, mosses, lichens, and algae to the National Herbarium of Canada (the CMN’s dried plant collection). In a few cases, these are the first collections from these locations to be added to the herbarium. In other cases, such as with Cape Graham Moore, we already have previous collections from nearly a century ago, but going back and re-collecting allows us to detect changes in the vegetation over time. All of these plants, housed in the collection in perpetuity, represent a scientific legacy from the 15th anniversary expedition that will be of use to botanists, artists, researchers and students for centuries to come. I think it’s definitely a possibility that one of those future researchers will also be an SOI alumnus.