Climate drove 7,000 years of dietary changes

“What people eat, and how they get it, are a massive part of a person’s daily experience. Understanding what caused changes in those behaviors in the past is important to understanding how we may respond to changes in the future.” – Kurt Wilson.


Kurt is a doctoral candidate in anthropology and a past GCSC fellow working with Dr. Brian Codding. He led a study with University of Utah anthropologists providing a blueprint to systematically untangle and evaluate the power of both climate and population size on the varied diets across a region in the past.

The researchers used data from Peruvian, northern Chilean and Lake Titicaca archaeological sites and compared dietary trends over time, across three elevation categories: coastal, mid-elevation and highland. This allowed them to capture how much of diet is explained by population change and local climate, which estimates how much might be due to other social factors.

Excerpted from At the U. Read the full story here. The study is published in Scientific Reports.


Wasatch Environmental Observatory Seed Grant Awards

The GCSC recently provided seed grants to four research teams to conduct interdisciplinary research at the intersection of Wasatch Front air, water, and health. Criteria that was considered in funding decisions included utilization of Wasatch Environmental Observatory (WEO) data resources, inclusion of ecological and/or environmental justice perspectives, collaborations between academic units, and new scholarship or knowledge. These four projects engage 15 faculty from across ten different departments, seven graduate students, students in an undergraduate class, and community partners.

The projects and investigators are:

  • The Compounding Impacts of Climate Change, Air Quality, and Environmental Justice on Health Outcomes at the Neighborhood level in Salt Lake County Schools
    • Tabitha Benney, Political Science; Brett Clark,Sociology; Daniel Mendoza and John Horel, Atmospheric Sciences; Rajive Ganguli, Mining Engineering; Scott Collingwood, Yue Zhang, and Cheryl S. Pirozzi, MD, School of Medicine
  • Landscape Lab Effects on Pollutant Loads to Red Butte Creek
    • Jennifer Follstad Shah, Environmental & Sustainability Studies; Sarah HInners, City & Metropolitan Planning
  • Climate Change, Parks and Trails, and Physical Activity
    • Dennis Wei, Geography; Ivis Garcia, City & Metropolitan Planning, Ming Wen, Sociology
  • In Search of Blue Sky
    • Wendy Wischer, Art & Art History; John Lin, Atmospheric Sciences

News from our faculty affiliates

New study questions the importance of meat eating in shaping our evolution – J. Tyler Faith

Report on pre-planning for public housing recovery in Utah – Divya Chandrasekhar

New research outlines how pine needles offer a simple, low-cost means of assessing particulate matter pollution – Pete Lippert

Dust threatens to destroy Utah’s snow – McKenzie Skiles

California mice eat monarch butterflies – Denise Dearing

How the Matterhorn sways; measuring rock arch motion to the Swiss Alps – Jeff Moore

Using math to understand changing polar environments – Kenneth Golden

Desert shrubs cranked up water use efficiency to survive a megadrought – Jim Ehleringer

The relationship between Megaherbivore extinctions and wildfires – J. Tyler Faith

Evolutionary history influences woodrats’ microbiomes – Denise Dearing

Methane emissions: Falling, but leaking – John Lin

In dry years, rivers become birds’ crowded corridors – Çağan Şekercioğlu

Roman noblewoman’s tomb reveals secrets of ancient concrete resilience – Marie Jackson

Human behavior sabotages CO2-reducing strategies – Lazarus Adua

Patterns of income and urbanization impact mammal biodiversity in the concrete jungle – Austin Green, PhD candidate, Şekercioğlu group.

How society’s inequalities showed in COVID outcomes – Daniel Mendoza and Tabitha Benney

Predicting if and when wildfire smoke will reach us – Heather Holmes

3-D printed replicas reveal swimming capabilities of ancient cephalopods –  Kathleen Ritterbush

Harmful algal blooms in Utah – Ramesh Goel

How air pollution changed during COVID-19 in Park City – Daniel Mendoza and Tabitha Benney

What factors put Philippine birds at risk of extinction? – Çağan Şekercioğlu

U contributes to first-ever nationwide mammal survey  – Austin Green, PhD candidate, Çağan Şekercioğlu

How mammals fare in human-disturbed environments – Austin Green, PhD candidate, Çağan Şekercioğlu

How a rare atmospheric event amplified the 2019 Australian wildfires – Thomas Reichler

Microscopic fossils record ancient climate conditions – Peter Lippert

Indigenous land-use reduced catastrophic wildfires on the Fish Lake Plateau – Brian Codding

Transit-mounted air quality monitors

Researchers in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences are studying air quality by mounting monitors on city buses. Logan Mitchell and  GCSC affiliate John Lin are PIs on this project. They have been taking readings from monitors mounted on TRAX light rail cars since 2014. Buses cover a wider range of Salt Lake City, and will give researchers a more granular look at emissions in the valley. This study will examine the relationship between primary combustion and secondary pollutants, and will also accelerate our fundamental understanding of urban atmospheric chemistry. This project will increase understanding of the spatiotemporal and sectoral changes in emissions, how changes in primary combustion affected secondary air pollutants, and what the urban atmospheric implications are for policies that target emission reductions.

Read more in At the U.

Read more from KSL news.

*GCSC affiliate

Protecting ecological legacies at Bears Ears

“The medicines on the landscape all have a story. The original proposal to designate 1.9 million acres for Bears Ears National Monument came from listening to the elders and medicine people who mapped culturally significant plants to protect our narratives. In terms of management, traditional knowledge is crucial to protect the entire ecosystem as a cultural living landscape…”

Cynthia Wilson, director of the Traditional Foods Program for Utah Diné Bikéyah
and member of the Navajo (Diné) Nation.


A new study by GCSC-affiliated faculty Brian Codding, Lisbeth Louderback, and colleagues draws on ecology, archaealogy, and indigenous knowledge can guide resource management in the Bears Ears region.

Below is an exerpt from the full story in At the U:

Indigenous people have lived in the Bears Ears region of southeastern Utah for millennia. Ancestral Pueblos built elaborate houses, check dams, agricultural terraces and other modifications of the landscape, leaving ecological legacies that persist to this day…

For the first time, a new study evaluated ecological legacies, archaeo-ecosystem restoration and Indigenous co-management practices in the Bears Ears region on the Colorado Plateau. The study published on May 17, 2021 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Bears Ears is not just about boundaries, it’s about management,” said the study’s lead author Bruce Pavlik, director of conservation at Red Butte Garden. “And it’s not just about artifacts. It’s also about the archaeo-ecosystems that are there. That’s what’s sacred to Native people.”

The authors surveyed 25 archaeological sites in the Bears Ears region that represented a wide range of locations, environments and archaeological complexity. By collecting plant specimens found at those sites, they compiled a list of 117 culturally significant plant species—those used for food, medicinal, ceremonial and utilitarian purposes by the Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Apache Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and the Navajo (Diné) Nation who trace ancestry to or currently reside in the region…

“What Tribal members have said all along is that you don’t just preserve the archaeological site,” said Lisbeth Louderback, curator of archaeology and director of the archaeobotany lab at the Natural History Museum of Utah and anthropologist at the University of Utah. “You have to preserve the entire resource space around the site, including the plants. Building a management plan incorporating both western science and traditional knowledge will get a full picture of the best way to take care of the resources and the monument.”