Putting ND Flora on the digital map
Summer 2011 was unique for many people in many different ways. Almost no one spent the summer as they originally planned.
For Minot State University senior Jared Schumaier and junior Josh Beaudoin, June and July were unique for them as well. However, their summer entailed traveling central North Dakota… picking flowers.
"I used to think nerds were people who picked plants," said Schumaier. "Actually, it was really cool."
"We got to work outside, enjoy the wilderness, gain valuable research experience and get paid besides," added Beaudoin.
Under the supervision of Alexey Shipunov, assistant professor of biology, the students participated in a botanical research project dubbed "Flora of North Dakota." Funded by the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service, the project's goals are expansive: to trace invasive plants across the state; provide a comprehensive floristic review; develop a virtual herbarium and identify endangered and rare plants.
The state's first two plant inventories were published in 1918, in which approximately 960 known species were listed. It wasn't until 1950 that North Dakota State University professor O. A. Stevens published a second (and last) plant diversity review. From 1971 to 2001, Bill Barker, NDSU professor emeritus, performed systematic plant research, expanding the NDSU herbarium from 40,000 to 250,000 entries. Unfortunately, the entries are not published, available only to those willing to visit the herbarium and page through the exhaustive catalog. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the state remained a "botanical white spot."
In North Dakota, it is easy to be in the middle of nowhere. Beaudoin and Schumaier immersed themselves and looked for natural flora, mostly found in state-owned and protected grasslands. They traveled as far south as 8 miles this side of South Dakota, to having "one foot in N.D. and the other in Canada."
"From hunting, I had a plot map that marked all the refuges and public land," Beaudoin said, "so that's where we went in every county."
One unexpected and rare find was a bog, in which peat moss developed on the outer edges of a lake, with rare plants thriving in the grassland.
"The bog was surrounded by a moat six feet wide, so I wasn't sure I would be able to get to it," said Beaudoin. But once he'd made the leap, "it was like walking on a mattress."
The researchers collected over 1,200 samples, which have since been geo-referenced and photo-documented. They discovered several new and rare plants for the state. In collaboration with the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada), the pair will prepare samples for DNA-based barcode research and create an online database for North Dakota flora. The online herbarium will have downloadable output and be available for future research.
Both Beaudoin and Schumaier plan on returning to the prairie next summer for phase two of the project. They will pick flowers from mid-July to the end of fall and hope to discover more rare bogs.
Sounds like a good plan.