A botanical baseline for conservation of Agguttinni, Nunavut’s largest and newest territorial park

OTTAWA, March 12, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Canadian Museum of Nature botanists have completed a comprehensive study of the floristic diversity of Agguttinni Territorial Park, Nunavut’s newest and largest Territorial Park. The team, led by Dr. Lynn Gillespie, has documented 141 vascular plant, 69 bryophyte, and 93 lichen species from this unique protected area on northern Baffin Island. All are native to the Arctic.

Through a combination of extensive fieldwork in 2021 and examination of hundreds of existing herbarium specimens, the authors have documented species newly reported for Baffin Island and have crafted a biodiversity baseline important for park management and conservation.

The result is a published checklist, immensely valuable to park managers and botanists, which is filled with descriptions and photos useful to anyone interested in Arctic botany and is available in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Check List.

Agguttinni Territorial Park encompasses over 16,000 square kilometres of towering mountains, long fiords, lush valleys, and massive ice caps, and is a protected area on northern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. This park, and all of Nunavut, is Inuit Nunangat – Inuit homeland in Canada – and the park protects sites and biodiversity stewarded by Inuit since time immemorial.

Agguttinni means “where the prevailing wind occurs” in the Inuktitut local dialect. The park includes important bird areas, key habitats for polar bears and caribou, and numerous important Inuit cultural sites. It is very remote: no roads lead to it, and access is only by helicopter, boat in the summer, or snowmobile in the winter.

During the development of the park’s management plan, Gillespie and her team inventoried the park’s plants and lichens in partnership with Nunavut Parks and Special Places, with the support of Polar Knowledge Canada.

Over five weeks in the summer of 2021, Gillespie’s team travelled across Agguttinni, exploring the vicinity of four base camps in the park on foot and further afield by helicopter. Across this large area, they studied many different habitats from the interior Barnes Ice Cap to the coast of Baffin Bay.  

The heads of the long fiords, sheltered far inland, hosted the greatest plant diversity in the park, including numerous species rare on Baffin Island and two species previously only known from farther south in Canada: Lapland Diapensia (Diapensia lapponica) and Flame-tipped Lousewort (Pedicularis flammea). Conversely, the interior plateau near the ice cap was less diverse, but still held new records for Nunavut, such as Powdered Matchstick Lichen (Pilophorus caerulus), Starke’s Fork Moss (Kiaeria starkei) and Sprig Moss (Aongstroemia longipes).

This intensive fieldwork resulted in over a thousand new specimens deposited at the museum’s National Herbarium of Canada in Gatineau, Quebec, and in other herbaria worldwide. These pressed and preserved plants and lichens serve as proof that these species were found at this specific place and time, and are the foundation for the knowledge of botanical diversity in the park.

Gillespie and her team also examined over 300 existing herbarium specimens from the park area, most of which were collected in 1950, the last time botanists intensively studied this part of Baffin Island. Combining data from these old and new specimens has resulted in the annotated checklist of the park’s plant and lichen diversity. With information on which species are present, where they are distributed, and which ones are rare, it will help the conservation and management of the protected area.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature:
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Dan Smythe
Head, Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature