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.


‘Virtual nature’ experiences in prisons reduce stress

Excerpted from At the U.

A new study from University of Utah researchers finds that exposure to nature imagery or nature sounds decreased physiological signs of stress in the incarcerated, and spurred their interest in learning more about the habitats they experienced.

The findings from the study, published in Ecopsychology, could be put to use to benefit the physical and mental health of the incarcerated, says Nalini Nadkarni of the School of Biological Sciences.

“Findings from this study also help us understand how providing nature or nature imagery might be beneficial for other nature-deprived populations,” she says.

For the new study, Nadkarni and her colleagues including Sara Yeo, associate professor in the College of Humanities and James Ruff, associate instructor in the School of Biological Sciences, met with 71 men in medium or minimum security blocks in the Salt Lake County Jail. After a survey about their opinions on science and nature, the participants viewed and listened to three-minute segments of video and audio of four different nature habitats: forests, mountains, oceans and streams. The researchers call these sessions “virtual nature experiences.”

The researchers monitored the participants’ stress level throughout. The participants reported feeling less stressed after the virtual nature experiences, and the physiological measurements backed that up. Nature exposure measurably decreased their stress.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers asked participants how interested they might be in taking a biology or ecology course to learn more about the habitats they’d seen and heard. Overall, they were more interested in learning about nature after the experience. Yeo, who studies science communication, says this result is encouraging, as people who are incarcerated not only have limited access to nature but may have had limited exposure to science before their incarceration.

“And so it’s really hopeful to think that one can see these changes even among groups that are not necessarily selecting science, or that we maybe don’t think of as having an affinity for science,” she says. “It’s still important for us to try to share experiences with science, even in places where we normally wouldn’t.”

Sara Yeo is a GCSC faculty affiliate.

How vegetation effects microclimates in urbanized Salt Lake Valley

A new study by Carolina Gómez-Navarro and GCSC affiliate faculty Diane Pataki, Eric Pardyjak, and Dave Bowling, looks at how trees and grass can help mitigate excessive heat in urban areas. Hard surfaces like roofs, buildings, and pavement absorb the sun’s heat and radiate it into the surroundings, creating a “heat island effect”. While trees cast cooling shade, the team found that a more effective cooling solution occurs with a mix of trees and turf grass. Read about the study in At The U.

GCSC Faculty Affiliates Honored for Contributions to Ecology

The Ecological Society of America has elected three of our affiliated faculty in recognition of their contributions to the science of ecology. To read more about the contributions of Fred Adler, Departments of Mathematics and Biology, Phyllis Coley, Department of Biology, and Bill Anderegg, Department of Biology, go to this UNews article,

Affiliates receive award for interdisciplinary research on sustainability of woodland health and human livelihoods

GCSC faculty affiliates from three colleges were successful in competing for an NSF award to research coupled natural-human systems. Researchers Brian Codding (PI), Phil Dennison (Co-PI, Geography), Shane Macfarlan (Anthropology), Simon Brewer (Geography) are from the College of Social and Behavioral Science. Bill Anderegg (Co-PI, Biology) is in the College of Science, and Court Strong (Co-PI, Atmospheric Science) is in the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

In this interdisciplinary project, researchers will focus on the piñon-juniper woodlands of southern Utah where Navajo and Ute people rely on wood fuel, examining the combined effects of environmental variation and firewood harvesting on woodland ecosystems to determine the conditions that promote healthy forests capable of sustaining wood fuel use into the future.

While growing evidence suggests that forests are threatened by droughts, extreme temperatures, and overharvesting, scientists currently have difficulty predicting future forest conditions, and that restricts capabilities to anticipate the energy security of one-third of the Earth’s people who rely on wood as a primary fuel source. To overcome these limitations, this project will gather data about forest health, human harvesting practices, and climate and other environmental conditions. The investigators will use these data to examine the dynamics between people and their local environment and to develop a model that can forecast future variation in this coupled natural-human system. Project findings will provide more generalizable insights for assessing the sensitivity of small-scale socioecological systems to environmental transitions. This project will inform land management decisions aimed at improving the sustainability of woodland health and human livelihoods under variable environmental conditions. The project also will provide education and training opportunities in the conduct of interdisciplinary research for graduate and undergraduate students.

Forest fuels comprise about nine percent of the global primary energy budget, but data are limited regarding the coupled forest-fuelwood-climate nexus, particularly the sustainability of forests to provide firewood for subsistence populations in a changing environment. This project will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists, biologists, geographers, atmospheric scientists, and engineers who will gather empirical data about woodland biomass and harvesting demand across a variety of climatic conditions and land-management regimes. Data generated from quantitative ethnography, field ecology, remote sensing, and climatology will be used to create and validate a dynamic model capable of predicting future conditions of this system under altered climate and harvesting scenarios. Results will provide a general framework capable of predicting diverse coupled natural-human systems under varied environmental scenarios. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.