Models for climate-driven impacts on Alaska berries

people at a workshop

Berries are extremely important to human and wildlife communities in Alaska, and in some locations abundance has decreased significantly in recent years. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Berry Outlook project, primary funding by the Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative along with support from the AK CASC, combines social and natural science approaches to identify the causes of recent changes in berry abundance and distribution in order to develop maps and models to aid local residents.

USGS scientists Rachel Loehman, Nicole Herman-Mercer, and AK CASC’s Ryan Toohey worked with partners from the Chevak Traditional Council and Kotlik Tribal Council to collect local ecological and spatial data from long-term residents of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, as part of a project to develop ecological models and vulnerability assessments for climate-driven impacts to berry resources in the region.

For two weeks, scientists collected data through surveys and mapping exercises with over 40 participants from Chevak, Hooper Bay, Kotlik and Emmonak. The maps created from this data depict future patterns of berry habitat and abundance, expressed as probabilities (e.g., high, medium, low probability of increased or decreased harvest) by grids across the coastal Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. To ensure validity, data and models will continue to be examined by survey participants and communities over the next two years.

Local residents and other stakeholders will be able to prioritize areas forecasted to transition into good berry producing habitats for acquisition during land exchanges, or preventing these areas from being traded away in land exchanges, developing habitat vulnerability assessments for shorebirds and waterfowl, and understanding of berry abundance-climate relationships for wildlife conservation.

This project provides important information on the relationships among climate, land use changes, ecosystems, and village subsistence systems, in formats that can be used to address the implications of possible futures with local and regional decision makers.