Biophysical Research

Motivated by the largely unexplained declines observed in manoomin/psiη stands across the Great Lakes region, our collaborative team has been carrying out biophysical science research to clarify the threats.

Over two summer field seasons, we focused on sample and data collection in three primary focus areas: hydrology, biogeochemistry, and vegetation.

Year-round, we jointly set our research directions and discussed interpretations. As a result of time together at and outside the field sites, we are: (1) identifying a regional network of manoomin/psiη waters of ecological and cultural concern to tribes, (2) building a database of biophysical conditions across diverse manoomin/psiη lakes and streams, and (3) generating new observation-driven hypotheses about factors influencing manoomin/psiη.

In particular, with tribal partners, we have collected data from four ceded territory sites and six on-reservation sites, spanning waters with dense rice to very sparse. Based on our preliminary observations as well as discussions with tribal resource managers, elders, ricers, and rice chiefs, we are finding that single stressors typically examined (e.g., mining-derived sulfate/sulfide or water level perturbations) can be important, but most likely, it is a confluence of biophysical factors that determines the health of manoomin/psiη stands.

These include some factors that have been largely overlooked in previous wild rice research, including physicochemical sediment properties, minor but still critical nutrients, and watershed-level interactions with upland vegetation and climate change.  Although this biophysical science research has yet to produce a publication, the critical accomplishment has been a shift in conceptualization and approach – away from siloed expert-driven research and toward a collaborative investigation spanning biophysical domains that fully considers tribal experiences and knowledge.