ResearchPublished on 19.07.2019

Scientific expedition in the high arctic

Science can really be adventurous. Invited by the University of Life Sciences from Poznan in Poland, Gregor Kozlowski, botanical garden curator, will investigate and collect plant material of several arctic plant species during the first two weeks of August at the Hornsund station in Svalbard.  In this land of contrast, the scientist will go from sunny days to biting cold and from large white glaciers to Arctic flowers on the water’s edge. Gregor even had to train for a while in the shooting range because of the risk of impromptu meeting with a polar bear, the king of the north. 

In the Spitsbergen, the bear is home. People are only guests. “Because of the high frequency of polar bears in the area, the fieldwork is always done in pairs (or in a group), and carrying a firearm is mandatory” explains Gregor. Of course, the shotgun is only to scare off the animal. Nobody wants to kill a bear. This is a protected species. 

Arctic-alpine vegetation: a high similarity
Gregor research subject will be different plants as Papaver dahlianum, P. cornwallisense from Papaveraceae family which best known representatives are the poppies as well as the herbaceous plants, Calamagrostis stricta (Poaceae). These taxa possess close relatives in the Alpine Arc. The scientist wants to understand the past formation of disjunctions between the Arctic and the Alps as well as the influence of recent climate change on the arctic-alpine vegetation. “My fieldwork and research partner is Prof. Dariusz Gwiazdowicz. He is one of the best specialists of the acarian fauna of the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the Earth.” 

Public meetings
Gregor will not only bring back samples to analyze. This winter & next year the Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg as well as the Natural History Museum Fribourg (NHMF) are planning a series of conferences presenting the challenges of the fieldwork in the Far North as well as the flora and fauna of Svalbard. An idea to keep in mind for the long winter evenings. 

The expedition is a result of collaboration between the Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg, the Natural History Museum Fribourg (both Switzerland), and the University of Life Sciences from Poznan (Poland). The genetic analyses will be done in collaboration with the University of Bern (Switzerland).

Useful links
Hornsund Polar Station
Greogor Kozlowski research
Botanical Garden Fribourg

Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash