Rare Quillwort
01 Sep — 2020
Rare Quillwort "Told" about Purity of Bering Island lakes

Research on aquatic plants continued in 2020. This time Maxim Grigoryan, a botanist, molecular biologist and a 5th year student of the Faculty of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics of Moscow State University, came to Bering Island to complete the collection of materials, begun back in 2015 by his colleagues from the laboratory of the Institute for Biology of Inland Waters named after I.D. Papanin of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

At the first stage, samples were collected, which made it possible to publish a detailed  work  about the flora of the Commander Islands. The second stage will clarify the classification and distribution of many aquatic plants in the Far East. The scientists were allowed to continue the research with grant "The role of hybridization in the microevolution of aquatic vascular plants in Russia." As a result, the laboratory was able to send 4 research groups to different parts of the country from the valley of the Lena River and the Kuril Islands to Chukotka. Maxim Grigoryan went to the Commander Islands to collect material for his own work and the work of his colleagues.

“I specialize in quillworts. This is a very interesting genus. It is found on all continents and has 100-150 species. Representatives of the genus exsited already in the Triassic, ”Maxim said.

Исследователь, ботаник, молекулярный биолог и студент 5го курса факультета биоинженерии и биоинформатики МГУ Максим Григорьян разбирает образцы. Фото – пресс-служба заповедника

Maxim Grigoryan, a researcher, botanist, molecular biologist and 5th year student of the Faculty of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, Moscow State University, is analyzing samples. Photo by The Commander Islands Nature Reserve press service

Today, quillworts are herbaceous plants from the lycopsids division. lycopsids thrived in the warm, humid climates of the Carboniferous period. By this time, some of their earlier creeping forms had grown into huge, branchy trees. These giants, up to 45 m in height, had thickened trunks and a superficial root system, diverging in different directions and fixing plants in the silty soil. When the swamps began to dry up at the end of the Carboniferous, many of them became extinct. The few non-extinct lycopodiums were much smaller than their ancestors. The genus  of quillworts   is characterized by a short thickened stem with numerous roots spiraling from the lower surface of the stem. The plant reproduces with spores that do not exceed 1 mm in diameter. Therefore, the electron microscope has become the best research tool.

Without an electron microscope, it is extremely difficult to find out which species is in front of you, because the signs visible to the naked eye, such as the color and shape of the leaves, of these plants are very variable. Canadian botanist Laima Kott, who worked with quillworts, once said: "Perhaps the only constant in this group is its variability."

In America, there are many species of this genus. In the Russian Far East, only two have been found: the Asiatic and the marine ones. One of the objectives of the study was to find out whether the Asiatic quillwort, common on Bering Island, is a separate species or only a population of Isoetes echinospora common in Europe.

There are two genetically different populations in the world: Kamchatka (presumably older) and American (younger). On Bering Island, these two populations intersect and share oastal tundra and lakes. It is interesting to find out if there are morphological differences between them, and whether they should be divided into two different types.

Распространение полушника в Камчатком региона. Иллюстрация из Красной книги Камчатского края, 2018

Distribution of quillworts on Kamchatka Illustration from the Red Book of Kamchatsky Krai, 2018

It is interesting that the Asiatic and the marine quillworts are capable of producing hybrids that are sterile. Such a hybrid was first found in Paratunka, not far from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and was named paratunsky quillwort. According to the results of the work of botanists in 2015, the paratunian quillwort was also found on Bering Island, but qualitative morphological confirmations of the finds (such as photographs of spores from an electron microscope) have not yet been found.

Working with aquatic plants presents a number of challenges, but also new opportunities. “There are wonderful days when a quillwort is found in every lake, as if it’s jumping into my hands. But to get it, you have to get into cold water. That is why it is important to study aquatic plants even now. In harsh regions, scientists avoid rivers and lakes. So these reservoirsremain under-researched, ”said Maxim.

 Озера в Северной части острова Беринга. Фото – Алексей Перелыгин

Lakes in the northern part of Bering Island. Photo - Alexey Perelygin

In the course of research, it turned out that the quillwort is much more common in the lakes of the northern part of Bering Island. The lakes of the Gavanskaya river valley and the Shanginskaya system of lakes create a kind of swampy zone, where the species diversity is higher, and, therefore, there is more quillwort. “Just yesterday, between Sarannaya Bay and Cape Vaksel, I collected 7 populations. This is a real record for one trip. I am very contented by results”,  - he said.

The mountainous landscape of the southern part of the island creates rapid rivers, but no lakes. Not many plants can grow there. Besides quillwort, the researcher found water crowfoot or aqueous buttercup, mare's-tail , Siberian parrot feather, several forms of pond weeds and water starworts. One of discovered water starworts possesses uncharacteristically narrow leaves, which drew the attention of researcher. But we failed to find bladderwort and yellow water lily typical for Kamchatka, which once again emphasizes the peculiarities of the island ecosystem.

Полушник на обсохшем дне озера. Фото - Ю. Копылов-Гуськов.

Quillwort on the dried bottom of the lake. Photo - Y. Kopylov-Guskov.

Quillworts are indicators of the ecological situation. These plants are very demanding on the purity of the water and often choose places that beach goers could choose - smooth banks with sandy or sandy-silty soil. Moreover, if the quillwort "like" the place, it forms groups or dense thickets, so the sampling does not affect the population of a rare plant from the Red Data Book.

“Usually I make radial excursions from huts for 15-30 km. I go around all the lakes on my way. I walk along the coast and look inside. If the conditions are suitable for aquatic plants, then I go into the water and collect 5 specimens of quillworts with matured spores and 3-4 more specimens for herbarium, ”says Maxim Grigorian,“ After processing, we receive material for 4 analyzes: spores for studying morphology under electronic microscope, root samples for chromosome counting, RNA materials for transcriptome analysis and for DNA sequencing ”. The goal is to compare all these parameters and make a "portrait" of each type of quillworts.

Processing samples after the route takes from one to three hours. “If you've been walking all day, of course, you're hungry, but you know that you need to make a herbarium and pack DNA samples in envelopes while it's day. It is impossible to work with herbarium in the dark. Therefore, in the evening, you first have to work on quillworts, and only then cook porridge in the dark, ”the scientist said.

The CINBR was pleased to hear that the scientist worked in comfortable conditions: “Everything is very well arranged here. Nice wooden huts in a place where there are no trees. I have not yet met such comfort in the field. It was a pleasure to work here. " We hope that the collected materials will allow the research team to learn more about aquatic plants in Russia and their role in local ecosystems. 

Заповедная Россия English

Заповедная Россия English