For the past 15 years or so, the Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park Rangers have been collecting ecological monitoring data. This monitoring includes many variables including soil temperature, weather and wildlife sightings, but one of the most focused datasets are three plant phenology transects.

Avens transect with Pauline Cove in the background. Photo by Cameron Eckert.

The Rangers themselves are Inuvialuit from Aklavik and Inuvik. They’re cultural and familial history is the western Arctic and in particular the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. It is their dedication and hard work in collecting the plant phenology data that has made it possible to quantify the ongoing phenological changes as the climate changes on Qikiqtaruk.

Ricky, Meagan, Isla and Sam. Photo by Cameron Eckert.
Ricky, myself, Isla and Sam. Photo by Cameron Eckert.

The phenology transects include three species, 20 plots per species, and phenology checks every 2-3 days from April to September. Originally setup to fulfill International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) protocols, this dataset has exceeded many others in its detail and duration. Due to the location of many researchers at southern institutions and logistics, there are only a handful of Arctic research programs that monitor plants with this rigour, from green up to senescence.

Isla, Sam and I working on the Avens plots. Photo by Cameron Eckert.
Isla, Sam and I working on the Avens plots. Photo by Cameron Eckert.

Three species are monitored, and I will make an effort not to list them in biased importance (being on Team Shrub). They are: Dryas integrifolia (Mountain Avens), Salix arctica (Arctic Willow) and Eriophorum vaginatum (Cottongrass). Based on ITEX protocols and adapted by Yukon Department of Environment and Yukon Parks biologists, the Rangers note the day when the plants are snow-free, get their first leaves and flowers, and turn to yellow and die in the fall (depending on the species).

Salix arctic plot.

I’m Meagan, life-long Yukoner, northern researcher and dog musher, MSc student at the University of British Columbia, member of Team Shrub since 2009 and a Jane Glassco fellow. This summer I have been working on an internship to investigate the ecological monitoring program on Qikiqtaruk.

My project in collaboration with Yukon Parks, Team Shrub, and the Yukon Research Centre, Yukon College (support from Yukon Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Trust and Yukon Parks) has been to review this plant phenology program, summarize and collate results from the program with accompanying results from vegetation research by Team Shrub, and provide options for improvement.

A large part of this project has been asking questions and listening to the experience of the Rangers collecting the data. What started as a data synthesis project has swiftly developed into what will be several outputs, with the main goal being including the Rangers in the communication of this research. Some Rangers have been collecting these data for 8 years or more, and in my personal opinion the next step is to include them in the work that happens after the data are recorded, including both interpretation and presentation.

The new goals of my project are as follows:

  • Write a scientific publication with a team of writers that includes Yukon Parks, Team Shrub and the Rangers.
  • Present a poster of the current scientific findings of this ecological research including all collaborators at the ArcticNet conference this December, Canada’s annual Arctic research conference.
  • Make regular updates from researchers working on Qikiqtaruk to North Slope communities (via Facebook –Team Shrub and the Herschel Island facebook groups) and via the Yukon Government (brief contributions to annual reports).

Increased communication to those who collect data about why the data are collected and where it goes is key. I have experienced this over 8 or more field seasons as a field assistant. On the projects where I was included in discussions and my questions were answered I felt all the more willing to spend cold 4am mornings on mountaintops filming songbirds, or 12-hour days planting tiny tundra plants for a warming experiment. Yes, it was my job, but the quality of the experience was heightened when I was included, and this encouraged me to not only pursue more scientific research jobs but also to formulate research questions about the ecosystems I work in.

In a world where so few northern researchers are northern residents, who observe the landscape year-round and are collecting a composite memory of ecological history, it is key to increase the translatability of all kinds of data. The plant phenology program, in combination with the weather, snow, and wildlife monitoring on Qikiqtaruk, has immense potential to be a standout example and bridge between people living in the North and people conducting research in the North. From my time with the Qikiqtarukmiut (which means people of the Island, and more recently including those who spend the season on the Qikiqtaruk, both Rangers and Researchers) I think we can make it happen.

Stay tuned for updates in the coming months!

Text and photos by Meagan plus photos from Cameron Eckert.