Climate- and Disturbance-Driven Changes in Subsistence Berries in Coastal Alaska: Indigenous Knowledge to Inform Ecological Inference

Abstract

Berry-producing plants are a key subsistence resource in Indigenous Alaskan communities. Coastal, high-latitude regions are particularly impacted by global climate change because their location at the land-sea ecotone subjects them to both terrestrial stressors and shifting ocean dynamics. Although changes in near-shore vegetation communities have been previously documented for the sub-Arctic coastal region of Alaska, we know little about vegetation dynamics in the permafrost-underlain portions of the landscape that support berry communities. To fill this gap, surveys were administered in four communities within the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to identify observations of changes in berry resources and integrate Indigenous Knowledge of drivers of changes with climate projections. We found that while many participants identified changes in berry phenology, abundance, and habitat related to climate drivers, important differences in responses were identified at the community level. Regional consensus can be used in combination with climate projections to forecast potential future impacts to berry resources, while distinctions at the community level can help to account for impacts of local scale disturbances and importance of social context.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Mission Area, the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center.

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of our partners from participating communities, including the Kotlik Tribal Council, Emmonak Tribal Council, Chuloonawick Tribal Council, the Native Village of Hooper Bay, and the Chevak Traditional Council. Specifically, we would like to acknowledge: Victor Tonuchuk Jr., Bernard Murran, and Earl Atchak. Additionally, we humbly acknowledge the Indigenous participants in this project, and express to them our deepest thanks for sharing their valuable time and knowledge of wild berry resources and cultural practices, without which this work would not be possible. We thank Lindsay Platt for her assistance with data visualization and Karen Jenni for her review of this manuscript.

Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Funding

This study was funded by the Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

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Herman-Mercer, N.M., Loehman, R.A., Toohey, R.C. et al. Climate- and Disturbance-Driven Changes in Subsistence Berries in Coastal Alaska: Indigenous Knowledge to Inform Ecological Inference. Hum Ecol 48, 85–99 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-020-00138-4

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Keywords

  • Climate impacts
  • Coupled natural-human systems
  • Arctic
  • Permafrost
  • Landscape change
  • Subsistence berries
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
  • Alaska