The Future of Culturally Important Species in North America

Project Information

Rob Dunn, Department of Applied Ecology, NC State University
Dominique David-Chavez, Colorado State University
Michael C. Gavin, Colorado State University
Matt Fitzpatrick, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Proposed Project Completion: April 2021

Implements Science Plan Theme: Adaptation


Thousands of plant and animal species are culturally important to the Indigenous peoples of North America. Global change is leading to major shifts in the abundance, distribution, and life history of these species, with concomitant effects on their value to the peoples for whom they are most culturally important. While a number of studies have begun to explore the futures of culturally significant species, these studies typically do so in isolation, focusing on individual plant species and single future scenarios, and involve little engagement with the people for whom such species are most important.

This project seeks to fill this gap by examining the future of culturally important species as climate conditions change, through close engagement with Indigenous stakeholders. Using an approach known as climate-analogue mapping, researchers will examine regions that are currently experiencing the specific climate conditions that are expected to be experienced by tribal lands in the future, as a means of forecasting potential future climate conditions for tribal lands. Researchers will then conduct a tribal needs assessment by convening a listening session at the United South and Eastern Tribes meeting, during which time they will solicit feedback on the best paths forward for studying and managing species on tribal lands, in light of global change. The team will frame the listening session around the following questions: (1) which species and phenomena should be studied; (2) at what spatial and temporal scale should they be studied; and (3) what management decisions would be most relevant.

This project will set the stage for the management of culturally important species on tribal lands across North America. Products such as an online interface and physical maps of the climate analogues will allow stakeholders to begin conversations with a common starting point and at least one tangible, common frame of reference. This project will support Secretarial Priorities 1a and 4a by identifying the science needed by tribes in order for them to manage animal and plant species as they adapt to changes in the environment.