The Polar ping pong ball report

The Polar ping pong ball report

Top image: An insect visiting Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) in Endalen. Photo: Lorna Little/UNIS.

Lorna Little is like a Polar ping pong ball, going back and forth between the Sub Antarctic and the High Arctic to investigate plant reproduction. Here is her field report from summer 2011.

25 August 2011
Text: Lorna Little, PhD student at University of Otago and UNIS

Having completed one field season in the Sub Antarctic of New Zealand and two here in Svalbard, I am feeling like the Polar ping pong ball with almost perpetual summer!

I started my field season this year with the blooming of the Svalbard poppies (Papaver dahlianum). Having arrived earlier than last year I was able to watch the entire process, from when the buds form to the flowers bursting open!

With some knowledge of where the poppies were hiding this year, I could jump straight into fieldwork, setting up pollination experiments in four sites this year – testing the effect of the coal dust and pollination treatment on seed production of white and yellow flowers.

Who is hot and who’s not – one year on
My “shower caps” from last year, used to stop insects visiting the flowers, have been upgraded to white netting “cages”, stopping the insects getting in and the flowers getting out! However, as I haven’t counted all the seeds yet (approximately 80,000 to go) I cannot yet make any conclusions about if yellow is more productive than white.

Also, insect observations were made in the field, which involves lying on the ground watching a chosen set of flowers for visiting insects for at least 30 minutes – a nice job in the nice weather during lunch break! Nice weather is also a bonus for conducting my thermal imaging experiments.

This year I was looking at flattened versus bowl shaped poppies, as well as white and yellow, and when you see the thermal images of the poppies in the sun it still amazes me how hot they are – 12 degrees ambient and its almost 20 degrees in the poppy center.

I have done a lot of hiking – although haven’t quite got the whole 12 mountain tops yet – in order to try a spatial distribution analysis on white and yellow poppies. Earlier hypotheses suggest that yellow would be preferentially found in warmer, sunnier areas compared to white, for example coastal regions.

At this stage I cannot say if this is true, it seems that yellow poppies pop up almost anywhere. I have been collecting genetic samples to see if there is gene flow between the colours and between populations of poppies. I also had a visit to Kvadehuken close to Ny-Ålesund that involved some ‘speed hiking’,  to collect samples for genetic analyses also.

I thoroughly enjoy the fieldwork that I get to do here in Svalbard, the thrill of finding a fresh opened poppy, be it white or yellow, never gets old!

Svalbard poppy thermal image

Flat shaped yellow poppy on the left and bowl shaped on the right. Thermal image (lower) shows the center of the bowl shaped poppy to be 21 degrees, while the flat flower is 18.5 degrees in the center. Photo: Lorna Little/UNIS.

Related articles:
18.10.2010: Hot n’ Cold


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