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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Importance of berries in the Inuit biocultural system : a multidisciplinary investigation in the Canadian North Boulanger-Lapointe, Noémie


In the Canadian North, the fruits of berry producing species are a highly nutritious source of food available to both animals and humans. Although relatively well-documented in boreal and subarctic environments, little information on the ecology and cultural importance of berry species is available for the Arctic. This research aims to fill that gap using archives, interviews, ecological monitoring as well as remote sensing tools. An overview of the different uses and roles of berry plants and berry picking as reported in close to 200 interviews conducted with Elders and active land users across Inuit Nunangat since the 1980s was compiled. Through extensive fieldwork and remote sensing analyses, local availability and animal consumption of berries were investigated in detail in the vicinity of Arviat, Nunavut. Finally, an overall assessment of berry productivity in the Canadian North was conducted using berry productivity data collected between 2007 and 2015 at 10 sites from Nain, Nunatsiavut, and Kugluktuk, Nunavut, to Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Results showed the extensive and intimate knowledge of berry plants throughout Inuit Nunangat; berries were and remain culturally and nutritionally important for Inuit. Detailed landscape analyses in Arviat, revealed the large number of berries produced and the relatively large amount consumed by animals, mainly geese. Nevertheless, animals only eat a marginal portion of the total production at the site. Perceived competition for the resource may be linked to the small number of productive and accessible patches in the vicinity of the community. The analysis of inter-annual and regional variations in berry productivity illustrated that the abundance of berries in the Arctic is comparable or greater to certain forested areas in North America and Fennoscandia. The most productive sites were located in the low Arctic, in dry-mesic sites dominated by semi-prostrate dwarf shrubs. Inter-annual productivity analyses showed the complex interaction of winter and spring precipitation as well as summer temperature on productivity. Overall, this research demonstrates the cultural and ecological importance of berry species across Inuit Nunangat and suggests ongoing impacts of community development, pollution and recent climate change on the quality and availability of this important resource.

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