Marine mammals – whales, fur seals, sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals - are the main focus of our protection activity. But our researchers do not forget about the unique flora of the Commander Islands – the place, where typical flora of two distant continents Asia and North America collide and intertwine. 4 Russia Red Data Book species grow here together with 17 species from Red Book of Kamchatka peninsula.
The main document, which limits the scientific activity of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve, is Ecological Monitoring Program. The document has 5 types of reference ground plants, which should be monitored: plants of bushy osiery near rivers, hummocky bushy rhododendron tundra, rubbly bushy tundra and moist moss tundra with a part of Trichophorum alpinum, as well as horizontal seabirds’ colonies.
Angelica Shilova, Researcher of the Commander Islands Reserve. Photo by Aleksey Mogilev
In the end of summer 2016 our botanist Angelica Shilova entered the team of the Commander Islands Reserve. Her main tasks are written in the Ecological Monitoring Program. Some of them are phytophenological examination, description of model local floras, registration of new species and new habitats of rare and endemic species, estimation of rare species populations on permanent sample areas, estimation and counting of flowering and fruit-bearing of berry bushes and subshrubs, assessment of shoot density and phytomass above ground of the grass layer.
As it is impossible to see all the plants of the islands at the same time, we choose permanent sample areas to describe some of the communities. It is necessary to conduct scientific research for a long period of time. Temporary sample areas are chosen for only one count or to analyze species diversity. On Bering Island there are 38 permanent sample areas. All of them are in different parts of the island, where different plant types prevail. Three of them were chosen by Angelica Shilova in 2016-2017.
One of the sample areas. Photo by Angelica Shilova
“Two areas are situated in hummocky subshrub tundra to count fruit-bearing of berry bushes, such as crowberry, foxberry and swamp blueberry. Another one is situated in the southern part of Bering Island in rubbly subshrub tundra. Other areas, chosen by other researchers in the past years are situated in the central and northern part of the island. That is why southern direction is our priority now,” said Angelica Shilova, Botanist and Researcher of the Commander Islands Reserve.
The areas are usually rectangular and have different sized, which depend on the type of plants and goals of the researcher. In case of tundra or meadow plants, scientists prefer areas 10x10 meters and choose smaller areas inside the bigger one. It is a way to make the counting more comfortable and accurate.
Large-flowered cypripedium. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
Near Nikolskoye village there is a permanent sample area to examine large-flowered cypripedium population state. This species is included in the Red Data Book of Russia. Every year during the flowering period we organize counts of generative and vegetative shoots and assess the condition of the population.
“There are other sample areas, where nothing appears to be interesting. In fact they are used for annual species monitoring and to track the condition of the reference plant type,” said Angelica Shilova.
Monitoring is organized not only in the sample areas. For example, we record new habitats, new species of the insular flora unseen before.
Even when it is foggy and cloudy, the researchers of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve do not waste time. Photo by Aleksey Mogilev
“To have time for all the planned tasks, during a short field season, we have to travel across tundra from dawn till sunset and to pay no attention to clouds of mosquitoes, thick rhododendron bushes, which try to trap your legs, and the fear of quadricycle – the main vehicle on the island,” said Angelica.
The responsibilities of our botanist include not only examination and research, but also tending the herbarium. The samples for herbarium are collected on the Commander Islands, then dried, described and stocked carefully in special books.
The botanist of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve, as many other employees, helps our Environmental Education Department. For example, Angelica organizes classes for schoolchildren of Nikolskoye village in the Ecological Guestroom of the reserve and in the open air and prepares materials for publication on the official social network pages of the reserve.
Head photo: bird’s eye panorama of Bering Island. Photo by the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve