Willow

Enter the world of willows. Journey to the south-west corner of the Yukon, to a land of glorious landscapes, shrubs and magic, where willows from the south and north live side by side… to a place that never existed (prior to 2014), to a time that is now (with a small blog posting delay). It is a world where a courageous team plants willows, living out an adventure that tests how shrubs grow in a warmer climate.

**Inspired by the 1988 movie “Willow”.**

An epic journey

A journey across altitudes and latitudes – from the shores of Kluane Lake up to the plateau above it and Pika Camp; from Qikiqtaruk to Inuvik to Whitehorse to Kluane again. The journeys have been long, but they’ve been fruitful. What’s left behind is a garden full of willows with different origins. Now, they share a common new home, but their journey is far from over.

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A time when a willow (or over 100) could tip the balance between environmental and genetic constraints

How do willows respond to increases in temperature? If a willow from the north is propagated in the south and starts experiencing the warmer climate there, it is freed of the environmental constraints of the harsher northern climate. But if it’s genes that determine how much a willow grows, the change in climate might have little effect. So which way does the balance tip? And like in most good movies, is there a twist that nobody saw coming? Stay tuned for more as we piece together the common garden discoveries we’ve made so far.

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A time for unlikely heroes

The heroes of this story are many, and it’s their combined work that has made the common garden what it is today. From many of Earth’s corners, people have come to the common garden and worked away – preparing the beds, moving soil and sand, planting, weeding, measuring, recording observations, the list goes on and on!

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A time when courage could be found where you least expect it

Along the shore of Kluane Lake as we carry buckets and buckets of water under the blistering sun. In the floodplain on Qikiqtaruk as we collect willow cuttings drenched by the rain. Up in the mountains where each step takes us potentially one step closer to finding an arctic willow specimen from which we can take a cutting to propagate in the garden. Along the path from Outpost Camp to the garden as we walk there wondering what the garden will look like. But really, when one most needs courage is when downloading data off HOBO temperature data loggers. Just when you’ve figured one data logger out, you move onto the next to find that it’s a slightly different model, needing different tools to open it up, different batteries and a different type of cable. After the great HOBO trials of 2017, this year we were ready with all the tools, batteries, cables and courage we imagined we could possibly need. There were trials, moments when the goal seemed unreachable, but just in the nick of time, on our last day in Kluane, we managed to install the right software for the special HOBO cable and we got the data! Courageous!

Not a time when good humans risked their lives

All risk assessment forms were filled on time, with all safety protocols carried out and of course, the best heroes are the ones with expedition-level first aid training.

If a willow dies not all hope for the future is lost

Sadness ensues when a willow succumbs to drought, heat, disease or fails to establish in its new home. Soothing the pain are all the other willows that continue holding onto life in the common garden. And when it comes to an experiment, there is value in death as well. As Haydn pointed out earlier in the summer after hearing about the drought in Kluane, regardless of the balance between life and death in the garden, there are still many great discoveries ahead.

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The “Isla Myers-Smith” bed – if you look closely you can see all the dead branches, but there are lots of new shoots as well.

A time of great adventure

Will the 2018 willows we brought from Qikiqtaruk and high up on the Kluane Plateau make it in the common garden? Now, a mere stick hints to all the potential shrubbiness of the new willows, but what is now a stick, can be a thriving shrub next year. Will that indeed be the case? How will our willows fare with the approaching winter? Only time can tell. All the best stories leave you hanging for at least 10 months, right?

From Team Shrub and the shrubs of Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island, Kluane Plateau and Pika Valley, comes the Common Garden. Stay tuned for scientific discoveries!

**Reposted from the Team Shrub blog.**

Text by Gergana
Video footage: Noah Bell, Isla Myers-Smith & Gergana Daskalova
Video editting: Gergana Daskalova

Arctic Above – A Team Shrub Photography Exhibition

Arctic Above – online photography exhibition

Our scientific research expeditions to the Arctic often reveal dramatic landscapes, exciting wildlife encounters and lots of natural beauty. We are always keen to widely share those experiences, and one way to bring the Arctic closer to people is through photography. This year, we are continuing our science & art outreach work (you can read more about our outreach events at the Edinburgh Science Festival last year here) by organising a second photography exhibition. This time, in addition to the physical exhibition, we also have an online exhibition, so that anyone with internet access can get a glimpse of Arctic environments, wildlife and ecosystem changes.

We present photographs of Arctic tundra landscapes and the plants and wildlife that inhabit them, captured as a part of scientific research expeditions to the rapidly warming Arctic. Images are captured from above using drones, helicopters or planes and on the ground as we hike out to our research sites. Some of these images are part of scientific datasets used to model the 3D structure of the tundra environment.

This work represents the interface between science and art, where the process of data collection has produced imagery that communicates the reality of global change and captures the patterns and beauty of remote Arctic ecosystems.

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You can explore our photography exhibition online here!

 

An Arctic summer

Carpets of purple, white, pink and yellow flowers, shrubs with shiny green leaves, amazing sunsets shortly followed by sunrises, lots of phenology and community composition data – there were so many magical moments during my time as a field assistant on Team Shrub on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Territorial Park in the Canadian Arctic.

Here is a collection of photos and excerpts from blog posts – the titles include links to the full blog posts on the Team Shrub blog, where you can find many more exciting stories from the field!

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Mystical evenings on Qikiqtaruk

The power of stories

“I feel like we could be sharing stories for hours” said Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island Park ranger Ricky to me one evening after we had chatted about our homes and cultures out on the rangers’ porch. I walked back to Signal’s House with a smile on my face, hoping that we would continue the conversation. Time has passed since that evening, we have shared more stories, and on a rainy day like today, it feels like just the time to tell you one more – a story about stories.

From one end of the world to the other, stories about how the world around us is changing and about the connection between people and land make me feel at home. Some of those stories have been scientific stories: a clear structure, many numbers and frequent reminders of why those numbers are important. Scientific stories take many shapes – journal articles, reports, presentations, computer code, blog posts and more. Just like a good story, a good scientific paper takes you on a journey through what we know, what we don’t know, and what it all might mean. Sure, there might be more graphs and less pictures than your usual story, but as a whole, scientists are professional tellers of very precise and accurate stories about how the world around us is changing and what that might mean for people and places.

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Changes on Qikiqtaruk: Perspectives from Ranger Ricky Joe

There is no sense of time when you are travelling around here – you need a lot of patience. You need to know where and when to stop, when it’s safe to move on. Now everybody is always in a hurry, people travel to places quickly, but don’t get to fully experience them. There are journeys that used to take us days when I was little, and today we can travel to those places in hours. But you still have to remember to really experience the place, to stop and take it all in. My family and I, we just love travelling. It’s hard to say what we love about it – everything. The openness. We have all been travelling since we were very little. I was always with my grandmother and her dog team, helping her, hauling ice for fresh water and hunting.

Arctic smellscapes

Over the last two months we have often asked you to imagine what it would be like to be here with us in the Arctic. Through words, photos and videos, we have tried to bring the Arctic closer to you. So close that if you just imagine, you may well see it. You could even hear it. If you ponder the many changes occurring on Qikiqtaruk Herschel Island, from changes in vegetation structure and community composition to changes in what our life is like here, and listen again, you could hear a change. The Arctic – you can see it, you can hear it, and now, for a fuller experience, we present the Arctic smellscape of Qikiqtaruk, so you can smell it, too. It may have started as a joke, and there may or may not be talk of an Arctic taste- and touchscape, but for now, we do think that the Arctic smellscape represents a unique blend of aromas – smell alone could often reveal what is going on around us and how the landscape, and our day to day camp life, is changing.

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Beautiful light and the calming sight of moving ice in Pauline Cove, Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Territorial Park

Qikiqtaruk Book Club based on Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”

Qikiqtaruk is a beautiful and inspirational place – science chats are particularly special when you can see, feel, hear and even smell your study system change as the growing season progresses. Out during phenology data collection yesterday, we saw that the spring flowers are fading and seed dispersal is beginning… summer is well under way. And this year, in addition spotting awesome wildlife, admiring magnificent sunsets and informally chatting about science in our remote Arctic field site, we have also started a book club!

Our book club discussions are summarised in four blog posts:

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part I: Ecological communities in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part II: Selection in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part III: Speciation, drift and dispersal in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part IV: Theory and high-level processes in the Arctic

Tangled up in plots

It was a long stretch of hot days, almost as hot as the hottest day of the year, when, amidst the buzzing of mosquitos and boat noises, dramatic words echoed through the tundra – hour after hour, one could overhear: “Three live, two standing dead”, “Salpul, seven point four”, “Wait, how many were dead?”, “Four dead.” The soundscape of point framing!

Team Shrub has been going back to the same 1 x 1m plots on Qikiqtaruk for six years, and this year I was lucky to be there for the poinframing joy! Half of the plots are in the Herschel vegetation type, and the other half in the Komakuk vegetation type. The communities there are very different, as we previously pondered in our first book club blog post after we started reading Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”. We have kept up reading the book in between fieldwork this summer, and point framing in particular has been a thought-provoking companion to our reading. We will be posting our second book club post soon, but until then, grab an imaginary pin flag, and picture yourself in the tundra landscape as we share with you our impressions from the 2017 point framing season.

 

The hottest day of the year and the epic storm that followed

Imagine yourself alone in the tundra. But imagine it isn’t quite as cold as you might think. The sweat is dripping down your back, the whine of mosquitos is incessant in your ears.  As you gasp for air while climbing the hill with your heavy backpack on, you just suck in the mosquito netting wrapped around your head.  DEET coats your skin with a shiny plastic-dissolving sheen as polymer bonds around you are destabilized and carcinogens seep into you through your skin.  This is the hottest day of the year on Qikiqtaruk.

Tough decisions have to be made on days like this – none more so that the perfect balance between having enough layers to avoid mosquito bites, but not so many as to boil in the humid Arctic heat. There came a point when the heat brought us to a naïve sense of bravery – the layers of clothing were coming off! Out of the frying pan, so to speak, and into the fire of mosquito bites and the eternal itching.

We are now all back from the Arctic and onto new adventures – I have started my PhD! My arctic summer, though, will always be a special adventure! Here’s to hopefully many more successful field season (and by that point, we might have gotten better at high-fiving)!

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Great determination, terrible execution!

Qikiqtaruk Book Club based on Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”

This series of blog posts was written on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island in the Western Canadian Arctic as part of Team Shrub’s island book club, aiming to read and discuss Mark Vellend’s 2016 book “The Theory of Ecological Communities” while we are out in the field, right next to the communities we study.  

Qikiqtaruk is a beautiful and inspirational place – science chats are particularly special when you can see, feel, hear and even smell your study system change as the growing season progresses. Out during phenology data collection yesterday, we saw that the spring flowers are fading and seed dispersal is beginning… summer is well under way. And this year, in addition spotting awesome wildlife, admiring magnificent sunsets and informally chatting about science in our remote Arctic field site, we have also started a book club!

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Plant communities on Qikiqtaruk

Our book club discussions are summarised in four blog posts:

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part I: Ecological communities in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part II: Selection in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part III: Speciation, drift and dispersal in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part IV: Theory and high-level processes in the Arctic

We thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Theory of Ecological Communities” whilst on fieldwork at our remote field site in the Canadian Arctic. There is particular charm in reading about a certain ecological process, be it high- or low-level, and then observing it in action moments later in the field. We look forward to continued discussions of the synthesis of ecological theory, but definitely agree with Mark that four high-level processes do shape community composition – selection, speciation, dispersal and drift.

From the Highlands to the high latitudes

Beautiful woodlands, bluebells in bloom, blue tit chicks hatching and growing and many exciting wildlife sightings across Scotland – a great way to spend the spring! I had a lovely field season collecting data on plant and bird phenology – I learned a lot, visited new places and had the chance to contribute to an exciting research project, led by Ally Phillimore. I loved spending time outdoors and really seeing spring arrive – leaf buds bursting and delicate new leaves emerging, whilst blue tits are dashing from branch to branch bringing in nesting material.

Along the many highlights of the field season was spotting a young fawn lying among a field of bluebells – there aren’t many fairy tales about field assistants checking nest boxes, but if one were to write such a story, it would certainly be set in an woodland just like this one.

Continue reading “From the Highlands to the high latitudes”

Science, outreach and coding galore in April

This April has been full to the brim with everything I love about science and academia – an art-science collaboration to give science outreach a creative spin, a conference to learn about cool research and meet new people, a coding workshop to spread our love for efficient coding practices and start new collaborations, a drone symposium to learn about the role of drone technology in advancing ecology, and finally fieldwork across beautiful woodlands in Scotland.

Team Shrub at the Edinburgh Science Festival

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I was very happy to help with the awesome outreach events Team Shrub organised for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. A great collaboration between scientists, science communicators (James Howie and the ASCUS Lab) and artists (Simon Sloan and Archie Crofton) resulted in a wonderful collection of photographs, data visualisations and fieldwork artifacts under the theme of “Arctic from Above” – Team Shrub’s first exhibition! You can still check out the exhibition in the Summerhall War Memorial Library before it closes on the 12th May!

Continue reading “Science, outreach and coding galore in April”

2016 – adventures in Scotland, Bulgaria and Australia

img_01592016 was the year I really fell in love with science, research, and academia. I’ve always been a big fan of universities, but in 2016  I found out I not only like going to uni, I also don’t really want to leave it anytime soon. Having a very positive honours year and getting to do awesome fieldwork and RA work afterwards made me even more sure that I want to do a PhD. 2016 was also the first year for which I didn’t have a set plan – mostly because I was too busy to make one – but also because I wanted to become better at adapting to uncertainty (e.g. where will I live next month?) and change. Although I often felt like nothing is happening, except models running and running, 2016 was actually full of meaningful, challenging, and inspiring experiences!

Continue reading “2016 – adventures in Scotland, Bulgaria and Australia”