Monday, 20 August 2018

Field work this summer at Alexandra Fiord

This summer I have been studying Arctic plant phenology at Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Arctic plant ecology field research has been conducted at Alex since the 1980s, lead first by Joseph Svoboda and Bill Freedman and, since the 1990s, by Greg Henry. The field work site is in the valley heading south from Alexandra Fiord towards Twin Glacier. The site is part of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) that has sites set up around the Arctic to monitor and study the impact of climate change on Arctic plant ecosystems. At Alex, Open Top Chambers (OTCs) were set up about 25 years ago to simulate climate warming and study plant responses to warming. The OTCs are hexagonal with angled polycarbonate panel sides that raise the temperature inside the OTCs by about 1 – 3 °C.
Open top chambers (OTCs) that simulating climate warming,
weather station and snow depth monitors with Alexandra
Fiord in the background.
OTCs at Alexandra Fiord with Twin Glacier in the background.
There are seven of us at Alex this year conducting various studies on how plants are responding to climate change. Isla and Jeff from Team Shrub are using drones to map the vegetation of the valley; Cassandra is studying how epigenetics of mountain avens (Dryas integrifolia) plays a role in phenological responses to climate change; and Elise is using dendrochronology to study the effects of warming on annual growth of Arctic white heather (Cassiope tetragona).
The team of researchers at Alex Fiord this summer -
Cassandra, Elise, Isla, Jeff, Sofie and Greg marvelling
at a sundog across the fiord from the RCMP buildings.
My research at Alex is investigating how timing of flowering influences reproductive success. I am monitoring the timing of flowering of plants inside the OTCs and in control plots outside the OTCs. Then collecting the seed capsules to count, weigh and germinate the seeds from each plant. Generally, plants in the warmed OTCs flower earlier than those in the un-warmed control plots and we are hypothesising that there will be an increase in reproductive success (more seeds and increased seed germination) with a warmer climate.
Monitoring reproductive phenology by counting the flowers
and fruits on the Arctic white heather plants in an OTC.
Some of the long-term monitoring projects we assisted with this summer included recording the survivorship of seedlings planted in OTCs and control plots seven years ago; counting the number of flowers and fruits of all species in a 1m2 area in centre of the OTCs and control plots; and a new protocol being conducted at ITEX sites around the Arctic this summer to measure the local species pool at a site by noting the first occurrences of each species up to 100m from the centre of the site.

1m2 and 0.25m2 quadrats in an OTC used for flower count
and local species pool monitoring at Alexandra Fiord.

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