Wild berries are a valued traditional food in Alaska. Phytochemicals in wild berries may contribute to the prevention of vascular disease, cancer and cognitive decline, making berry consumption important to community health in rural areas. Little was known regarding which species of berries were important to Alaskan communities, the number of species typically picked in communities and whether recent environmental change has affected berry abundance or quality.
To identify species of wild berries that were consumed by people in different ecological regions of Alaska and to determine if perceived berry abundance was changing for some species or in some regions.
We asked tribal environmental managers throughout Alaska for their views on which among 12 types of wild berries were important to their communities and whether berry harvests over the past decade were different than in previous years. We received responses from 96 individuals in 73 communities.
Berries that were considered very important to communities differed among ecological regions of Alaska. Low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum and V. caespitosum), cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) and salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) were most frequently identified as very important berries for communities in the boreal, polar and maritime ecoregions, respectively. For 7 of the 12 berries on the survey, a majority of respondents indicated that in the past decade abundance had either declined or become more variable.
Our study is an example of how environmental managers and participants in local observer networks can report on the status of wild resources in rural Alaska. Their observations suggest that there have been changes in the productivity of some wild berries in the past decade, resulting in greater uncertainty among communities regarding the security of berry harvests. Monitoring and experimental studies are needed to determine how environmental change may affect berry abundance.
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