Establishing a reference collection of Victoria Island bryophytes


  1. E.R. Cox, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,
  2. I.D. Hogg, Polar Knowledge Canada, Canadian High Arctic Research Station, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada
  3. C. La Farge, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Citation information

Cox, E.R., Hogg, I.D. and La Farge, C. 2020. Establishing a reference collection of Victoria Island bryophytes. Polar Knowledge: Aqhaliat Report, volume 3, Polar Knowledge Canada, p. 23–27. DOI: 10.35298/pkc.2020.06.eng


Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) are a dominant component of arctic vegetation. They have special adaptations to survive under environmentally extreme conditions. Arctic populations adapted to polar desert climates can easily shut down metabolic activity during dry periods and restart upon rewetting (a process known as poikilohydry) and survive freeze-thaw cycles by dehydrating (Proctor et al., 2007). The bryophytes of Victoria Island have rarely been documented in scientific literature, and only a few collections have ever been made (Persson and Holmen, 1961). Bryophyte species will respond differentially to a warming climate and are likely to be important indicators of ecosystem changes (Lang et al., 2012).

Over two field seasons, several sites on Victoria Island were visited, with most of them being around Cambridge Bay and Wellington Bay (Figure 1). These collections have already resulted in the finding of 75 moss and 12 liverwort species, including 46 not previously reported for Victoria Island. Some notable discoveries include:

  1. Splachnum vasculosum: a species belonging to the Splachnaceae moss family that only grows on dung or bone (Figure 2). Unlike S. vasculosum, other members of the Splachnaceae family, like Tetraplodon mnioides, are common on Victoria Island (Figure 3).
  2. Fissidens osmundioides: a small moss that is rarely found in arctic environments, distinguished by leaves that fold into a pocket.

In addition to these basic biodiversity surveys, one common arctic moss Aulacomnium turgidum (swollen thread moss) has been selected for a more intensive study of its population genetics. This moss is of particular interest due to a range that is restricted to the Arctic-Alpine, its presence in glacial forelands, and having mainly clonal reproduction in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Figure 4).

The bryophyte samples collected from Victoria Island contribute to the known arctic bryophyte flora and provide material for a genetic barcode library to be used as a reference library of arctic species. These genetic data can also be used to track the movement of species through the ecosystem (e.g., the diets of other species). The specimens will also form part of the reference collection located in the herbarium of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. These will be accessible to visiting researchers and local community members to learn from and develop. More importantly, they will establish a baseline of species occurrences for continued monitoring of changes occurring around Cambridge Bay, on Victoria Island, and, more broadly in the Arctic.

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Figure 1: Map of sites visited on Victoria Island, Nunavut during 2018 (squares) and 2019 (circles). Star designates Cambridge Bay. Scale bar = 50 kilometres. Inset showing map of Canada with study area (outlined).

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Figure 2: Splachnum vasculosum with sporophytes (i.e., umbrella shaped reproductive structures).

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Figure 3: Tetraplodon mnioides growing on dung.

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Figure 4: Aulacomnium turgidum collected near the intensive monitoring area campsite.


  • Lang, S.I., et al. 2012. Arctic warming on two continents has consistent negative effects on lichen diversity and mixed effects on bryophyte diversity. Global Change Biology, 18:1096-1107.
  • Longton, R.E. 1988. Adaptations and strategies of polar bryophytes. Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society, 98:253-268.
  • Persson, H. and Holmen, K. 1961. Bryophytes Collected during the Arctic Field Trip of the Ninth International Botanical Congress. The Bryologist, 64:179-198.

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