Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Research finds sharing, cooperation key to Arctic villages

Barrow community members share the work of hauling out a harvested
 bowhead whale. Photo by Jenny K. Evans

A new analysis of subsistence data collected in three Arctic communities underscores the importance of social ties and sharing among households.

The analysis draws on data collected in 2009 and 2010, as part of research led University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Gary Kofinas. The Subsistence Sharing Network Project analyzed the flows of subsistence goods and services among households in Kaktovik, Wainwright and Venetie.

Results from that earlier research found that 60 to 75 percent of the harvesting was the result of household and community cooperation, rather than hunting done by individual households. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of wild foods moved among households in the one-year study period, distributed through sharing, whaling crew shares, community feasts and other social relationships.

Findings highlighted the interconnectedness of the communities, different patterns of sharing for different resources and the sheer magnitude of sharing in the community, said Kofinas.

“Households not only shared within communities, their networks of sharing also extended to other communities across Alaska and to northern Canada,” he said.

Shauna BurnSilver, who worked on the initial study as a postdoctoral researcher, shared the data with a systems modeler at Utah State University and two European mathematicians. Together they applied new analytical methods to evaluate the effects of removing particular households, crews, social connections or resources from the communities’ subsistence systems.

The results of this research were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The analysis found that “the principal challenge to the robustness of such communities is the loss of key households and the erosion of cultural ties linked to sharing and cooperative social relations rather than resource depletion.”

Jim Magdanz, who worked on the original research and is a co-author on the paper, said the results seem intuitively correct. “People matter and social relations matter.”

Anyone familiar with Alaska history can list the many shocks Alaska Native cultures have weathered, he said, including Yankee whaling, gold mining, oil development and population growth. “Yet subsistence harvests remain high, and sharing and cooperation continue to be hallmarks of Native life in Alaska,” Magdanz said.

Kofinas said the findings suggest the need for policymakers and others to support Native villages’ traditional practices of subsistence.

The lead authors are Jacopo Baggio of Utah State University and BurnSilver of Arizona State University. Co-authors include Kofinas of the School of Natural Resources and Extension and the Institute of Arctic Biology; Magdanz, a UAF doctoral student; and Alex Arenas and Manlio De Domenico of the Universitat Rovira I Virgili in Spain. The paper is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/11/14/1604401113.ful.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Jan Dawe and Mark Melham receive URSA Awards

Assistant professor Jan Dawe and SNRE graduate student Mark Melham will receive $7,500 URSA Mentoring Awards for the 2017 academic year.

Both were notified late last week. The mentoring awards are given to UAF faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students to provide undergraduate research learning opportunities.

Nicole Dunham pours birch sap during the collection
season this spring. Some students hired with URSA funds
 will work on birch processing methods.
UAF photo by Todd Paris 
Dawe, a research assistant professor, will recruit three to five students who will work on a variety of projects. This include comparing birch sap processing methods and looking at product quality, taste testing and the efficiencies of different evaporators. The students will also work on citizen science protocols for tracking phenology, growth and productivity in the T-field birch plot on North Campus and development of the STEAM Studio as an informal science center. The T-Field is part of the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Melham’s grant will support his project, “Dall Sheep Research in Gates of the Arctic.” Melham, who is working on a master’s degree in natural resources management, said the primary purpose of his research with Professor Dave Verbyla is to validate Landsat and NGA high-resolution satellite imagery in order to understand where shrubs are and how they’re expanding throughout the entire Dall sheep range. The Gates of the Arctic study is designed to ensure that remotely sensed data corresponds correctly to the physical location and percentage of tall shrub coverage.

One goal of the project is to obtain high-resolution field data on vegetative growth and quality in critical Dall sheep habitat along the John River. The URSA funds will support two undergraduates who will spend their summer floating the John River on repeated transects, visiting randomized points to perform vegetation composition surveys and collecting Dall sheep fecal samples. To prepare for the field season, the students will work with Melham during the spring and (hopefully) present the initial findings from the remote sensing portion of the project at the URSA Research Day.