Ecological legacies of long-term plant management along the Central Coast of British Columbia
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Quantifying long-term human impacts to landscapes allows us to understand the ways in which ecosystems respond to constant human pressure and the effects this pressure has on permanently influencing ecological processes and functions. Permanent ecosystem changes due to human activity are described as ecological legacies. As the global population steadily increases and resource demands heighten, understanding how humans drive ecosystems can contribute to the effective development of strategies that protect sensitive species and manage resource landscapes responsibly. Many modern management techniques have devastating ecological consequences, resulting in species endangerment and extinction, habitat fragmentation, and the loss of ancient cultural landscapes similar to that of the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia (BC). Here, the Coastal Indigenous peoples of BC have been modifying the temperate rainforests to increase food sources for hundreds, in some cases, thousands of years, enhancing the biotic potential of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem through complex, sustainable methods of management. Since before colonization, Indigenous landscape management along the Pacific Northwest Coast has supported and enhanced ecological processes and functions, proving to be significantly less destructive than management techniques practiced by commercial industries today. Though discrete in nature, ecological and Indigenous methodologies can be used to uncover the legacies of these sustainable management systems, detectable in the present-day composition of plant communities, fire occurrence patterns, and local habitat structure. As modern resource management encroaches on coastal rainforests, these ecological legacies become increasingly threatened. Localized field surveys that identify present-day distributions and spatial boundaries of edible and economic plants, as well as highlight habitat and phenotypic characteristics can help protect and uphold cultural landscapes and valued species. The objective of this study was to collect ecological data on the distribution, community composition, ecological niche, abundance, and species richness of culturally valued plants on a set of historic islands in the Great Bear Rainforest. The overarching goal of this study is to assess if the legacy effects of long-term Indigenous management still persist in these ecological variables today and collect data on the habitat, community composition, and phenotypic traits associated with large populations of edible species. Our goal is also to determine which sections of coastline surveyed in our study hold the greatest overall cultural significance and identify populations of edible plants that may have been subject to high human management. All field research was carried out in collaboration with Indigenous community and council members. One if the goals for this collaboration was to bridge the gap between western and Indigenous knowledge and identify components that led to meaningful relationships, stronger research, and the ability to exhibit “two-eyed seeing”. From the results of our study, we can conclude that the landscape surrounding all sampled sites holds high cultural and economic value, with higher richness and abundance of culturally valued species around places with known long-term human presence. Additionally, almost all of the plants identified in this study have some known management technique associated with them, with the highest managed plants subject to 11 unique and complex strategies. We believe our results are legacies of these management techniques traditionally utilized for thousands of years to increase productivity and richness of edible and economic plants. Data of this type will complement existing Indigenous Knowledge on the current location and spatial distribution of culturally important plants to support local Nations as they implement ecosystem-based-management strategies within their territories. In addition to the ecological data collected, pathways to work collaboratively with a diverse team of researchers who embody different ways of knowing were also uncovered. These included building trust, establishing respect, honoring diversity, communicating openly, and possessing cultural awareness. Our hope is that other research teams will reflect upon our experiences and use them as a path to guide their own knowledge collaborations.
Cite this version of the work
alana Closs (2021). Ecological legacies of long-term plant management along the Central Coast of British Columbia. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17158