Everywhere in the world, humans depend on nature in many ways, such as for cleaning our water and air, for protecting us from dangerous floods, and for growing our food. This research examines how climate change may threaten the connections between people and the natural world on which we rely. We show that combining plant distribution data with human cultural information can help us plan for the effects of climate change on these connections.
We focus on two plants that are used for weaving and medicine, because they are important to the history and identity of the Indigenous Māori people of New Zealand. First, we made maps of where the two species currently grow based on where scientists have collected samples in the past. Then, we used computer models of future weather patterns to make maps of where the species are likely to grow in the future under climate change. Finally, we combined the current and future maps with information about where people currently harvest these plants and how important these harvesting places are.
Our results show that there are still places where the climate will be suitable for these plants to grow in the future. However, these plants will be less likely to grow in many places where they are most important to people for weaving and medicine. This means that although the species themselves are not threatened by climate change, the human knowledge, history, and use of these plants is in danger. This potential loss would have ramifications for Māori culture on regional and national scales. This project shows how we can use models as a first step to protect both organisms and the people who use them from the impacts of climate change.