Linking local ecological knowledge, ecosystem services, and community resilience to environmental and climate change in Pacific Islands

PI: Tamara Ticktin (UHM Botany), Kim Burnett (UHERO), Alan Friedlander (UHM Biology and National Geographic), Tom Giambelluca (UHM Geography), Stacy Jupiter (Wildlife Conservation Society -Fiji), Mehana Vaughan (UHM NREM), Kawika Winter (National Tropical Botanical Garden), Lisa Mandle (Natural Capital Project, Stanford), Heather McMillen (NREM).
Graduate students and postdocs: Leah Bremer, Jade Delevaux, Ashley McGuigan, Shimona Quazi, Rachel Dacks, Jonatha Giddens, Natalie Kurashima, Puaʻala Pascua, Cheryl Scarton, Ron Vave

This interdisciplinary and collaborative project aims to identify factors that enhance resilience of Pacific Islands communities and the natural resources they depend on, to environmental and climate change. Our research has two major foci: 1) In Fijian coastal communities, we are examining how indicators of resilience are linked across social and ecological realms, and land and sea (agroforests and coral reefs); how they are affected by external factors such as markets; and the role of traditional ecological knowledge and management, and biocultural connections more broadly, in enhancing resilience. 2) We are assessing how different land and ocean management practices affect social-ecological resilience under different climate change scenarios. We are examining cultural connections to place, ground water recharge, fire risk, native plant diversity, and economic costs and returns. We are focusing on three study sites that differ in their environmental and socioeconomic conditions: Kaʻūpūlehu, Hawaiʻi Island, Haʻena Kauai Island, and Kubulau, Vanua Levu, Fiji.

University of Hawai‘i and University of the South Pacific field school (T. Ticktin et al.)

Our team consists of faculty, students, resource managers and community members, whose expertise include terrestrial and marine ecology and management, ethnobotany and traditional ecological knowledge, environmental economics, anthropology, climate change modeling and ecosystem services modeling. One of our goals is to develop a network for sharing and exchange on the role of traditional ecological knowledge and management, and biocultural connections more broadly, in enhancing resilience in the Pacific Island communities. Last year we co-taught in interdisciplinary field course in Fiji on this topic for a group of UH and University of the South Pacific students, from across the Pacific Islands. We have been funded through the NSF Coastal SEES and NSF CNIC programs.

Institutionalizing Interdisciplinarity

The UHM Biocultural Initiative of the Pacific has joined  network of 13 universities that will explore how to make interdisciplinary research more common and more effective, and more impactful for students and communities, with a focus on sustainability science. Funded by a National Academies Keck Futures Initiative grant and led by University of Minnesota and Duke University, this new network will explore how institutions are addressing three key challenges to interdisciplinary research: measuring impact, supporting students, and fostering co-development.

The issues facing modern society such as climate change, poverty, and the global economy are extremely complex and have only become more so over time. To address the challenges confronting Hawai’i, the region, and our world, researchers need to work together, across disciplines and sectors. Throughout the two-year project faculty and students will have opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary trainings and help shape the future of interdisciplinary research on and off campus.

Alor Ethnobotany Project

NSF-BCS 0936887 Origins of the Alor-Pantar Languages
PI: Gary Holton, Department of Linguistics

This pilot project documents traditional botanical knowledge in Abui, an endangered non-Austronesian language spoken in the Alor Archipelago of Southern Indonesia. Given rapid changes in human-environment interactions, etnobotanical knowledge is particularly susceptible to loss and stylistic shrinkage. Building on more than a decade of collaborative research by an international team of investigators, this project will: (1) collect voucher specimens for herbarium deposit and determination to species; (2) create high-quality photographic images of each specimen; and (3) video-record, transcribe and translate conversations about knowledge of each specimen in Abui language. The results will provide a baseline for future comparative studies, forming the foundation for an empirical ethnobotanical dataset, which can be used for linguistic reconstruction of botanical terminology. Ultimately, such data provide clues to the ecosystems of ancestral homelands and aid in the identification of lexical borrowings which suggest prehistoric migration patterns and the emergence of areal features that demonstrate cultural and linguistic contact.

Explorations of Ethnobotanical Knowledge in the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk Lagoon)

NMNH-Smithsonian Institute Recovering Voices Project with UHM Biocultural Initiative
PI: Emerson Lopez Odango (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning), Alexander Mawyer (UHM Center for Pacific Islands Studies) Joshua A. Bell (NMNH Smithsonian Institution)

This pilot project examined contemporary atake “homegardens” as dynamic ethnobotanical spaces of local ecological knowledge in Chuuk Lagoon islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The project sought to investigate the status and transmission of language-encoded biological and ecological knowledge in the face of ongoing and intensifying migration and diaspora, and to extend and enhance the reciprocal value of Smithsonian Institutes collections to homeland (source) communities. Our work was further contextualized by heightened local concerns about small island ecological and cultural resilience and food security in the wake of Typhoon Maysak in March 2015. Drawing on methods from anthropology, linguistics, and ethnobotany, we sought an interdisciplinary understanding of biocultural diversity in domestic contexts thoroughly entangled in various sorts of human and non-human mobilities. Our research team consisted of cultural anthropologists from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and the Smithsonian Institution of the National Museum of Natural History, and a linguist from the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

Developing guidelines for and assessing relationships among biocultural indicators to improve long-term resilience of Pacific social and ecological communities

Working group leaders: Tamara Ticktin (UHM Botany), Stacy Jupiter (Wildlife Conservation Society Melanesia), Manuel Mejia (The Nature Conservancy- Hawaii), Eleanor Sterling and Chris Filardi (American Museum of Natural History) and Rachel Dacks (UHM Biology)

This collaborative project is funded through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) Science for Nature and People Initiative (SNaP) and focuses on developing and assessing biocultural indicators of resilience in Pacific Island communities. Pacific Island communities face unprecedented challenges in conserving natural resources and maintaining human well-being. Gaining a better understanding of the factors driving community resilience and the supportive management practices and policies is urgent. Biocultural feedbacks are widely believed to play a critical role in fostering the adaptive capacity of resilient human and ecological communities, but they are poorly understood. Understanding biocultural linkages and feedbacks requires overcoming two challenges: 1) development of consistent methodologies to identify and measure them; and 2) development of appropriate models to explore how their benefits are affected by social and environmental pressures. Through synthesis of the literature and comparative data analyses from on-going projects across a wide range of Pacific Island communities, we will identify (i) What makes a good set of biocultural indicators and how can they be measured?; (ii) How can we scale local to global metrics that have relevance across diverse Pacific Island sites?; and (iii) What is the relationship between pressures, ‘biocultural state’, benefits and management responses in Pacific Island communities? Outputs will include journal articles, policy briefs, guidelines and peer learning tools for communities, and strategic findings summaries that will assist resource managers at various levels to plan for desired biocultural states in a rapidly changing world.