Salmonberries are ripe and ready, and the promise of huckleberry and blueberry season is on the horizon in Sitka. But with warming temperatures, scientists say climate change could make berry picking more challenging in the future. And there’s a gap in knowledge about how berries are changing in Southeast Alaska, specifically. A new study in Sitka is underway to close that gap.
“We decided we wanted to create a locally relevant research project that Sitkans can be invested in,” said Alex McCarrel, the research coordinator at the Sitka Sound Science Center, speaking with Brooke Schafer for the Morning Interview on July 7.
“Berries are super important,” she continued, “because fruits and vegetables are so expensive here. So, we can pick, for free, berries.”
Last year they started a pilot program to monitor berry timing and development, testing out cameras pointed at berry bushes at three separate sites around town.
“It takes pictures every single day of a berry bush,”McCarrel said. “And so we can get a time lapse to the day, to the hour, of when berries develop, when flowers bloom, when leaves bud, and this is called phenology.”
Phenology is the study of life stages. McCarrel says it’s important for researchers to observe the life stages of the berries year to year to understand how climate change may affect their growth and ripeness.
“Say it’s getting a little warmer in the summer, or we’re losing that protective snowpack in the winter,” McCarrel said. “That will affect how, or when, our berries are ripe. And so we can start doing mitigative measures.”
So what do those mitigative measures look like? “Say your normal berry patch is now becoming sparse because it’s too hot. If you’re right on Sawmill Creek, let’s move to a higher elevation, or you might need to go to a shady or area,” McCarrel explained. “So we’re trying to arm citizens to ways that they can potentially mitigate these effects.”
They’re expanding the research this summer, and asking for help from berry pickers. These citizen scientists will pick berries at the same berry patch for five minutes once a week, count the berries and measure the haul, and report those numbers to the researchers.
Sitkans interested in participating in the berry monitoring project can call McCarrel at 206-331-0897 or email her at Amccarrel@sitkascience.org