Berries are a crucial nutritional and cultural resource to communities and ecosystems in boreal, subarctic and arctic areas; however, berry abundance and the timing of the berry lifecycle is becoming more variable and unpredictable due to climate change. Climate adaptation plans across the state of Alaska identify changes in berry timing and availability as primary concerns and point to the need for increased monitoring and research on how climate change is influencing berries. While there is a large body of work on plants that produce berries, much of the information is not accessible to those who need it most: land managers and communities planning for an uncertain future. This project will address this critical information need through three goals. First, it will bring together scientists, land managers, and community observers to synthesize what is known about berry plants and how they are responding to climate change. These efforts will produce a public, easily accessible report and other products aimed at informing communities about how to plan for changing berry resources. Second, the project will develop a strategic plan to identify gaps in information needed to address urgent questions about berry abundance and timing, Third, it will address the rising concern of “rotten berries” by piloting a new citizen science component, Microberry, that focuses on fruit quality and decomposition. The project team will also work with Alaska Native educators in four communities to develop protocols and lesson plans for multiple age groups. These protocols and lesson plans will bring an exciting new dimension of berry science to youth and will provide state-of-the-art training opportunities to rural communities.
Results from this project will be combined with additional descriptions of the berry microbiome and provide the basis for expansion of the Microberry network statewide. These outcomes will bridge a substantial gap in our understanding of berry dynamics, as very little is known about the microorganisms that live on and potentially cause disease in wild berries. Together, these activities will increase our understanding of this important resource and provide a basis for planning a sustainable berry future.
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“Kenai Fireweed; Credit: Lisa Hupp/USFWS”