Impacts of Climate Change on Health Benefits of a Tribal Alaskan Resource:Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge with Risk Assessment Through Local Monitoring

EPA Grant Number: R833707
Title: Impacts of Climate Change on Health Benefits of a Tribal Alaskan Resource:Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge with Risk Assessment Through Local Monitoring
Investigators: Lila, Mary Ann , Raskin, Ilya , Flint, Courtney , Johnson, Jennifer
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , Office of Alaska Native Health Research and Epidemiology , Rutgers
EPA Project Officer: Klieforth, Barbara I
Project Period: January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2011
Project Amount: $300,000
RFA: Issues in Tribal Environmental Research and Health Promotion: Novel Approaches for Assessing and Managing Cumulative Risks and Impacts of Global Climate Change (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice , Climate Change , Tribal Environmental Health Research , Human Health


Within Alaska Native communities, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has long held that wild indigenous berries are a health-promoting, life-sustaining resource. Modern science has recently elucidated specific health-protective, adaptogenic properties of the natural components within berry fruits. This project will integrate biological scientific data relevant to wild berry bioactive properties with community perceptions of risk under the threat of global climate change and encroachment on the habitat of the berry resources.


It is our hypothesis that there are predictable links between climatic stress factors and shifts in climatic regimes, berry fruit composition, and the preventative/therapeutic value of berries to combat diabetes and other complications of metabolic syndrome. We also expect that tribal community approaches to mitigating health risks through dietary berries will be conditioned by community-held risk perceptions, local tribal knowledge, and uncertainties regarding global climate change impacts on these valued native resources. We propose a parallel, integrated, simultaneous research approach to: 1) provide baseline assessment of the bioactivity (health risk mitigation properties) of berry resources as influenced by climatic stress factors relevant to global climate change, via cross-comparison of two Alaska tribal communities characterized by inherently different climatic regimes; and 2) assess local traditional knowledge and risk perceptions regarding community health, berries, and climate change, and integrate these with biophysical findings for informed local health related decision-making.


Using a participatory approach, tribal representatives will be trained using newly-developed field-deployable bioassay technology to assess bioactive properties of berries in each site. A community-based risk assessment using interviews with local residents will be used to record and synthesize local traditional knowledge and risk perceptions regarding berries, their health properties, and effects of climate change. Active cooperation between researchers and local stakeholders will build a foundation for future research on long-term effects of climate change on berry resources, their health properties, and mitigation strategies.

Expected Results:

The use of community-based participatory data acquisition and local involvement in scientific research is expected to inform tribal decision-making and local strategies to help mitigate health risks, and empower tribal groups to protect and foster development of local resources on private, tribal lands. We bring biophysical and social science together to enhance our understanding of relationships between community lifestyles, diabetes and metabolic syndrome in tribal communities, mitigating bioactive berry components, and the influence of climate change on sustainability and potency of this valued native resource. Native Alaskan youth will be engaged in hands-on field data acquisition and will serve as the interface between scientific discovery and the traditional ecological wisdom of the community elders, leading to conclusive evidence for the impact of environmental extremes on the berry resources and wider realization of the implications of global changes on both the resources and their relevance for human health maintenance.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 24 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 4 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

phytochemicals, ecosystem, community health

Relevant Websites:

Lilalab Website Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2008
  • 2009 Progress Report
  • 2010 Progress Report
  • Final Report