When lab-work takes you to the field

Originally written for the OUPF Newsletter 12/06/2021 – correct at time of writing!

Due to exceptional circumstances, DPhil student Maria Dance is doing her lab work in a place we normally associate with fieldwork. Maria is in Svalbard, analysing DNA samples from dwarf birch samples collected across the Arctic by an international team of collaborators. Interestingly, all of these samples–except for others from Svalbard–were collected further south than Maria’s present location.

Maria in the field. Photograph by Sil Schuuring

Here’s what Maria says about her lab work:
Dwarf birch is an important component of tundra vegetation and is expanding in many areas as part of the “shrubification” trend. The data from these samples will be used to answer questions about whether higher genetic diversity in different regions is linked to recent Arctic greening/shrubification trends. Regions with most dramatic shrubification in recent decades (Alaska and Eastern Siberia) were also major glacial refugia, so we want to find out whether the greater genetic diversity found in former refugial areas still impact the response of dwarf birch to contemporary climate change.

Maria is a DPhil student on the NERC Environmental Research DTP.