Present day plant communities as a legacy of Indigenous management over millennia

Date

2021-08-09

Authors

Hunter, Kalina

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Abstract

Human activities have fundamentally shaped ecosystems across the globe. While this is often associated with degradation, cultures with alternative philosophies can leave a different kind of legacy. First Nations in the temperate rainforest of coastal British Columbia, like the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv, have inhabited the land for over 14,000 years, leaving behind tangible legacies in the plant communities we see today. From fine-scale effects of enriched plant leaves to landscape-level species distributions, this research investigates the ecological legacies of human land use and management—both past and present. In one chapter, I test if plants growing on ancient, human-modified soils are enriched in nutrients. I find that plants growing on these sites contain more phosphorus and sodium, which generally benefit fruit production and overall growth. This aligns with oral histories that describe fertilized shrubs as having berries that are bigger, healthier, tastier, and more productive. In the following chapter, I create models that predict the distribution of culturally important plants. With the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, I develop a framework for habitat suitability modelling that can be used as a tool for aiding their resource management decisions. All models performed well (AUC = 0.9 overall), and offer insight into suitable habitat across a 3,600 km2 area. Out of five predictor variables, distance to shore, site series (a vegetation index), and human influence contributed the most to model performance. This research contributes a practical tool for resource management and adds to the growing body of interdisciplinary knowledge that uses scientific methods to answer questions of cultural significance. In a time of overlapping environmental crises—like climate change and biodiversity loss—it is important to be aware of the positive influence humans can have on the environment, and how this can offer a hopeful direction for resource management into the future.

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Keywords

ethnobotany, habitat suitability modelling, resource management, plant ecology

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