Skip to main content

Ecological Calendar Research Sites

Ecological Calendars to Anticipate Climate Change


What are Ecological Calendars?

Calendars enable us to anticipate future conditions and plan activities. Ecological calendars keep track of time by observing seasonal changes in our habitat. The nascence of a flower, emergence of an insect, arrival of a migratory bird, breakup of ice, or last day of snow cover - each is a useful cue for livelihood activities, such as sowing crops, gathering plants, herding animals, hunting, fishing, or observing cultural festivals.

Photo credit: Karim-Aly Kassam

Many human communities have developed unique and reliable systems to recognize and respond to climatic variability. Multiple generations living in particular landscapes accumulate knowledge of the relational timing of celestial and ecological phenomena. Historically, these diverse ecological calendars enabled communities to coordinate livelihood activities with seasonal processes. However, due to colonization and industrialization, these calendars fell into disuse. Now these calendars are pregnant with promise and require recalibration to new conditions and increasing variability due to anthropogenic climate change.

Why are Ecological Calendars Relevant?

The greatest challenge of anthropogenic climate change is lack of predictability due to unprecedented weather patterns. Developing anticipatory capacity - the ability to envision possible futures and develop a dynamic plan to deal with uncertainties - is urgent. Ecological calendars contribute to food and livelihood security. An estimated 70-80% of the world's population continues to rely on food produced by small-holder farmers and herders. Food systems require the ability to anticipate patterns of temperature and precipitation. Communities and researchers must innovate to adapt to a greater range of possible scenarios.

Photo credit: Karim-Aly Kassam

The Kassam Research Group is leading two participatory action research projects focused on ecological calendars in North America and the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. The overarching aim of these projects are to revitalize, recalibrate, and develop new ecological calendars by integrating place-based and indigenous knowledge with science. These projects aim to establish a proof-of-concept for ecological calendars in collaboration with diverse indigenous and rural communities across the globe.

Ecological Calendars for Climate Change Adaptation (North America)

With support from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, we are partnering with Dakota and Lakota First Nations in Standing Rock and rural communities in the Oneida Lake Watershed of upstate New York.

In December 2015, the research group collaborated with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to host a 3-day workshop for Elders, youth, and tribal government agencies focused on ecological calendars. Based on the recommendations of workshop participants, we have continued to organize focus groups and individual interviews to document phenological knowledge and seasonal activities in eight reservation communities.

Photo credit: Tamar Law

In June 2016, the research group hosted two workshops at the Cornell Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake to plan the research process and identify sources of community knowledge. Following the workshop, we conducted more than 40 interviews with farmers, fishers, beekeepers, orchardists, maple syrup producers, birders, and others to engage with their rich knowledge of seasonal processes in the Oneida Lake Watershed.

Project team includes:

Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (Central Asia)

With support from the Belmont Forum, the National Science Foundation (USA), the National Science Foundation (China), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy), and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany), the Kassam Research Group will be partnering with communities in the Shugnan Valley of Badakhshan, Afghanistan; Alai Valley of Osh Province, Kyrgyztan; Tashkurgan Valley of Xinjiang, China; and Bartang Valley of Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan.

Photo credit: Tobias Kraudzun

In July 2016, Dr. Kassam and along with the International team of scholars and students hosted hosted workshops in Alai Valley in Osh Province, Kyrgyzstan and Tashkurgan Valley in Xinjiang, China to conceptualize ecological calendars research in the Pamirs. In addition to preliminary research, climate stations were established in the high altitude mountainous communities.

Photo credit: Tobias Kraudzun

In 2017, the Kassam Research Group will be returning to these communities of to continue participatory human ecological mapping. In addition, we will establishing the project in the Bartang Valley in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan and Shugnan Valley in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. We will integrate bioclimatic data with human ecological mapping to generate hybrid maps for these regions. From 2017-19 we will be working with international partners and communities to develop:

Project team includes:

Civil Society Partners

<<back to research projects