Session: Climate Change and Ethnobiology (Plenary)

Shifting Practices, Shifting Knowledge Climate Change and the Conservation of Arctic Biodiversity in the World Wildlife Fund

MACLIN, Edward - University of Georgia

Conservation of Arctic biodiversity presents unique challenges, most recently rapid environmental shifts resulting from climate change. This paper focuses on changes in conservation practice within the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF's) Arctic Program from 1992 to the present, and concomitant epistemological changes within the organization. Based on ethnographic study in WWF's offices in Canada, Russia, Norway, and the USA along with text analysis of WWF archives, I examine shifts in what is considered appropriate ecological knowledge for conservation. As ideas about ecology and conservation are altered, some conservation practices remain the same--with climate change presented as renewed justification for both existing practices and innovative programs. The organizational culture of WWF can be viewed as an ethnobiological knowlege system: one that interacts with indigenous and scientific knowledges in complex ways.

Biocultural Diversity and the Political Ecology of Climate Change on Appalachian Orchards

VETETO, James R. - University of North Texas and Stephen B. CARLSON - University of North Texas

Southern/Central Appalachia is home to at least 633 distinct varieties of landrace apples, contributing to its status as the most diverse foodshed in the US, Canada, and northern Mexico.  This paper investigates the biocultural diversity of Appalachian orchards and grower perceptions of climate change.  Research to-date on the relationship between climate change and agriculture has focused on annual crops.  Long-term perennial crops such as apple trees give researchers the chance to study a more longitudinal record of human-climate interactions.  In Appalachia, one of the earliest orchard areas in the United States, many orchards have been run by single families for multiple generations, and both oral histories and grower records contain climate information stretching back several decades or longer.  Appalachia is historically a region with conservative political beliefs and the circulation of information about climate change is often limited to tight-knit social groups and networks.  This research investigates climatic observations about the diversity of apple trees on Appalachian orchards while simultaneously giving attention to the ways in which political beliefs influence the attribution of ultimate causes to articulated changes in local weather patterns.

Himalayan Climate Change and Ethnobotany

SALICK, Jan - Senior Curator of Ethnobotany, Missouri Botanical Garden

The Himalayas are experiencing the most drastic global climate change outside of the poles with temperature increases of 5-6oC, 20-30% increase in rainfall, and melting of permanent snows and glaciers. These affect peoples’ health, agriculture, and livelihoods in a many ways including diseases, pests, crops, water, and annual cycles. These also affect peoples’ cultures and cosmologies. We have established a trans-Himalayan Ethnobotany project in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal to document the effects of climate change on alpine plants and peoples’ use of them. Data show that alpine plants, including a majority of medicinal plants important to Tibetan and other traditional medical traditions, respond to climate change depending on elevation, precipitation, and biogeography and that people perceive, adapt to and mitigate climate change in creative ways from which the world can learn. We are now collecting repeat data after 7 years in Tibet. These data are contributing to international efforts to address climate change by including indigenous perspectives in policy formation (UNFCCC, CBD, UNESCO, and FAO).

Coping with Climate Change Impacts and Adjustments in an Andean Agrarian Community

SKARBØ, Kristine - Western Norway Research Institute

This case study examines impacts of recent climate change on agriculture and farmers’ emerging coping strategies in the Ecuadorian Andes. It is based on data from workshops, semi-structured interviews and participant observation over a period of 12 months in Cotacachi County. The results show that several facets of recent climatic trends have altered agricultural conditions. Farmers observe seasonal weather irregularity, increased water scarcity, more intense sunshine, torrential rainfall and higher temperatures, corresponding to scientific analyses of Andean climate data. These processes affect crop and livestock production in a variety of ways, often resulting in reduced harvests. Farmers approach the altered conditions by strategies including searching for new water sources, reducing livestock assets, increasing the use of agrochemicals, moving planting and harvest dates and swapping crops between zones and seasons. While some of these approaches may prove successful also in a long term perspective, others are likely to undermine agricultural sustainability. 

Climate Change and Crop Diversity Manioc Varietal Management in the Rural Amazon

KAWA, Nicholas C. - Ball State University

Between 2009 and 2010, record flooding accompanied by intense drought left devastating impacts on many smallholder farming communities in the Central Amazon, severely compromising production of even the most resistant crops, including the regional staple manioc.  Drawing on botanical, ethnographic, and social network data collected from this period, I examine the effects of these events on the production and management of manioc and its varieties in caboclo communities along the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon.  Through this examination, I consider influences that may contribute to dwindling crop diversity and added farmer vulnerability, including issues in crop selection, market demand, and varietal distribution along social networks of exchange.  I also discuss how farmers who occupy critical positions in social networks can serve important roles in broadening varietal distribution and thus improving community resilience in the face of increasingly uncertain environmental and climatic conditions.  To conclude, I outline some of the ways in which ethnobiological research on crop diversity management may serve both farmers and policy makers in this time of anthropogenic climate change.

The Long-term Investment Strategy Orchard Managers Observing and Reacting to Change

McCLATCHEY, Will - Botanical Research Institute of Texas and David REEDY - Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Long-term (40+ years) cider apple orchard managers have been interviewed in Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Ireland, U.K., Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Their observations of changing climates and responses through pest/disease management, selection of tree varieties, fertilization/animal co-management, tree management, and attention to culture-specific details/values have been compiled to reveal resilient decision-making patterns. Evidence will be presented that points to likely future success of traditional orchard managers who continue to implement lessons learned across generations despite facing increased environmental challenges.

Session: Comparative Landscape Ethnoecology: Changes in Space and Time

Kinship to the Canyon Hualapai and Paiute Ancestral Ties to the Grand Canyon

CANNON, Carrie Calisay

This presentation explores the Hualapai and Paiute Tribe's unique ancestral and contemporary ties to the Grand Canyon, and focuses on each Tribe's natural and cultural resource monitoring efforts.  The Hualapai Tribe's tradtional lands encompass an extensive portion of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Reservation includes the western 108 miles of the Grand Canyon.  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is the traditional lands of the Southern Paiute people and are bounded by over 600 miles of the Colorado River from Kaiparowits Plateau in the north, to Blythe, California in the south.  Both tribes are involved in extensive monitoring in the Grand Canyon centered on ethnobotanical resources, archeological sites, and Traditional Cultural Properties. Results derived from ongoing monitoring are utilized in part to provide management and policy decision making input regarding Grand Canyon and Colorado River resources through an adaptive management framework with other key stakeholders.

Session: Fire Ecology and Ethnobiology

Birds, Fire and Human Culture Australian Landscape

GOSFORD, Robert - Darwin, Australia. Ethnoornithology Research & Study Group

In this paper I will explore the relationship between birds and fire in the Australian mythical and physical landscape. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some species – particularly raptors - are active promoters of fire in the northern Australian savannah landscapes, using small fire-sticks and embers to spread fire throughout the open grass and woodlands of the semi-tropical north. There is also evidence of similar behaviour from other parts of the world, including Africa and the Americas. I will briefly examine the fire-bird mythology of the Yanyuwa people, an Aboriginal language group from the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory, with a specific example of the propagation of fire on a landscape scale by one species of raptor. This presentation concludes by speculating on the importance of this line of investigation. On one hand, “ornithogenic” landscape modification by fire would necessitate a re-evaluation of our knowledge of historic landscape processes. On the other hand, as an Australasian ‘myth’ states, it opens the possibility of fire manipulation by humans as a behavior learned from kites that could be comparable to weaving learned from spiders, flight based on birds, etc.

Session: Inerdisciplinary Approaches to Ethnobiology

Ranking Tool for Medicinal Plants at Risk of Being Overharvested in the Wild

KINDSCHER, K., University of Kansas, CASTLE, L., Southwestern Oklahoma State University, LEOPOLD, S. United Plant Savers and CRAFT, R., University of Kansas

We developed an adaptable, transparent tool used to quantify and compare vulnerability to overharvest for wild collected medicinal plants and to create a list of the most threatened plants. The United Plant Savers is known for developing “The List” of medicinal plants at risk for overharvest (available at Our new tool scores species according to their life history, the effects of harvest, their abundance and range, habitat, and demand. The resulting rankings, based on explicit criteria rather than expert opinion, will make it easier to discuss areas of vulnerability and set conservation priorities. We will discuss the tool and plants that are ranked as At-Risk, including difficult to score Echinacea, Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra). Current scores are based on independent rankings from at least three experts in the field. The adaptable nature of the tool will allow for adjustments as more information is added.

Session: Paleoethnobiology: Humans and Environments in Time

Colonists from Mesoamerica Brought Maize Agriculture to the U.S. Southeast in Prehistoric Times

BROWN, Cecil H. -- Northern Illinois University, Søren WICHMANN -- Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and David BECK -- University of Alberta

Maize agriculture was a relatively late introduction into the U.S. Southeast, established widely in the region only around 1000 years ago. From where it was introduced and by whom are unknowns. Speculation includes a U.S. Southwest origin and/or introduction from various parts of Latin America via water craft across the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. New linguistic evidence indicates that a Mesoamerican people, who migrated to the Southeast probably from northeast Mexico, brought maize cultivation to the area. These were ancestors of modern Chitimacha people of southern Louisiana whose language is now extinct, but survives in textual materials and voice recordings. Application of the comparative method of historical linguistics shows that Chitimacha and languages of the Totonacan and Mixe-Zoquean families of Mesoamerica share a common ancestor, a proto-language whose homeland was located somewhere in Mesoamerica. Words for maize, ‘to shell corn,’ leached corn (nixtamal/hominy), and cornfield reconstruct for this ancestral tongue, terms that survived in 20th century Chitimacha (and, of course, also in modern Totonacan/Mixe-Zoquean languages). Chitimacha maize words are strikingly similar to maize terms from Caddo (Texas/Louisiana) and Catawba (Carolinas) languages suggesting that at least some Southeast groups acquired maize agriculture from Chitimacha speakers.

Using Maize Productivity Indices to Characterize and Compare Potential Maize Productivity Across Mississippian Sites


Maize productivity indices, used by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to distinguish soils across the United Sates based on their potential maize yields, were identified for soils within an 8 km-radius of 28 Mississippian sites/site complexes. Across all sites, 96,380 ha are classified as highly productive and 166,889 ha as moderately productive for maize. Productivity varied greatly across sites and site complexes, with the Cahokia Uplands having the largest amount of highly productive soils (27,336 ha).  Moundville, in contrast, had no soils classified as highly productive. Productivity indices were higher in sites located in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky and lower in states farther south: Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi.  Both the quantity of highly productive soils and their unequal distribution have important implications for how we characterize and evaluate the role of maize in Mississippian communities. 

Microbotanical Evidence for Pastoral and Agricultural Landscape Modification in Nyanza, Kenya

SZYMANSKI, Ryan M. - Washington State University, Anthropology

Generally poor preservation of macrobotanical materials in East African archaeological contexts has forced archaeologists to rely heavily on other secondary material proxies in interpretations of early agriculture and plant use in this region. Use of microbotanical evidence, including pollen, phytoliths, and fungal remains, in the investigation of changes in food production strategies is a methodology that is increasingly gaining momentum.  Data on pollen and fungal spores extracted from a late-Holocene sediment core from Yala Swamp, Nyanza, Kenya, is presented to illustrate the potential of microbotanicals to yield temporally and ecologically nuanced information on local food production histories by contextualizing archaeological and paleobotanical remains more broadly within local frameworks of environmental change and human landscape modification.  Changes in the representation of pollen and fungal taxons at this locality suggest that both human activity and long term environmental fluctuations have conditioned the ecology of Yala Swamp through time.       

Climate change and the origin of split-twig figurines in Grand Canyon, Arizona

EMSLIE, Steven D. - Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington and COATS, Larry - Department of Geography, University of Utah

Hundreds of split-twig figurines have been recovered from caves in Grand Canyon and are associated with a hunting ritual that dates from 4200 – 3100 14C yrs before present (B.P.).  The caves chosen for this ritual all contain Pleistocene remains of big game animals and presumably Archaic hunter-gatherers identified these sites as entrances to the Underworld.  We examine the known chronology for these sites in Grand Canyon and postulate that the origin of this ritual is correlated with a period of rapid climate change that occurred on both global and regional scales beginning at 4200 B.P.  Warmer and drier conditions at that time probably negatively affected productivity for big game species such as bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), deer (Odocoileus hemionus), and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and the caves became foci for a hunting ritual with figurines serving as an offering.  This hypothesis can be tested with additional radiocarbon dates on figurines.

Session: Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Moolks [Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca] on the North Coast of British Columbia Knowledge and Meaning in Gitga’at Culture

WYLLIE DE ECHEVERRIA, Victoria - University of Victoria, Victoria B.C.

I examined ethnobotanical uses, traditional knowledge and folk classification of moolks, Pacific crabapple (Malus fusca (Raf.) C.K. Schneid.; Rosaceae) for the Gitga’at First Nation of Hartley Bay. I conducted interviews with seven Gitga’at elders, who recognize up to five distinct varieties moolks, based on fruit characteristics and harvesting location, each with its specific applications. To determine ecological and morphological variability of moolks within its traditional harvesting area, I sampled and measured foliage and fruits from individual trees and different sites. While some fruit and leaf traits are correlated, I identified significant variation between and within trees making it hard to delineate the varieties as described by the elders. I conclude using these two knowledge systems – traditional ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge – in conjunction, can result in a more detailed understanding of a botanical species.

Session: Zooarchaeology and the Environment

Local Dietary Trends and Inter-site Connections in the Ancestral Pueblo Goodman Point Community, Southwestern Colorado

HOFFMAN, Amy - University of North Texas , Laura ELLYSON - University of North Texas and Christy WINSTEAD - University of North Texas

The Ancestral Pueblo people had some of the largest pre-colonization population densities in the southwestern United States. Over time, increasing population density lead to intense land use practices, in the context of several climatic shifts. These effects altered the way the Ancestral Pueblo people subsisted on the landscape and eventually lead to the depopulation of the Four Corners region (circa A.D. 1300). Several recently excavated archaeological sites within the Goodman Point Community, spanning a long temporal occupation (A.D. 775-1280), contain thousands of animal remains. We examine the local spatiotemporal variability in faunal remains through the use of quantitative approaches (including nestedness and prey choice indices) and investigate if these local dietary patterns mirror larger regional trends. The close spatial proximity and long temporal resolution of these newly excavated sites allows us to increase our understanding of local dietary stress and inter-site connectivity.