Today I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Starri Heiðmarsson, the Head of Botany for the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. As well as looking after the herbarium (which is based in Akuyreri), Starri is a lichenologist who spoke to us about his interesting research focusing on seashore lichens.
Earlier this year, I listened to the lichenologist Professor Nimis explaining the concept of nunataks to students of the University of Manchester in the Italian Alps and it is incredible (and quite sobering) to find out that scientists in Iceland are able to study colonisation of emerging nunataks as the Icelandic glaciers retreat.
However, while in Iceland I am specifically looking at the consequences of introducing invasive species in fragile environments (and collecting specimens of the Nootka lupin as an extreme example) and so I took the opportunity to explore this story further in conversation with Starri.
I’ve spent the last two weeks on a field course with 25 undergraduates from the Faculty of Life Sciences studying Alpine Biodiversity and Forest Ecology. We stayed at the wonderful Rifugio Tita Piaz in Passo Pura in the Carnic Alps and made use of the facilities at the field centre of Baita Torino.
We were really lucky to have Professor Nimis, Professor of Systematic Botany at The University of Trieste and renowned lichenologist, come to talk to us at the beginning of our stay. He explained how the biodiversity of the area arose after the last ice age. Some plant species survived in patches where the mountains rose high enough above the local glaciers to provide a refuge for life (known as nunataks). Others arrived after the ice melted, migrating into the region from the Baltic, Siberia or Southern Italy.
Prof Nimis also introduced us to his excellent key to the flora of this region. Produced as part of the Dryades project from the University of Trieste, it is now available translated into English, either online or as an Apple app. This was a great tool for students to use for their project work investigating aspects of the environment around them.