Independent Research

In my second year at UTM, I did a spatial literature review of the human impacts on two birch species, Betula utilis and Betula papyrifera. More specifically, I analyzed the existing scholarly literature focusing on the effects of climate and environmental changes (2017 to 2022) and the human use (1982 to 2022) of the two birch species.


Birch tree species have been used by humans for thousands of years for medicinal, domestic, agricultural, and commercial purposes (Lewington, 2018). Currently, there are around 60 birch species (Wang et al., 2016). Recently, birch species have been subject to a lot of attention because of human exploitation and possible effects of climate and environmental changes on the growth and distribution of these species. My research specifically focused on Betula utilis, found in the Himalayas, and Betula papyrifera, found in North America. Through my research, I wanted to understand if these two birch species were at risk because of human activities.

Research Process

My research process was broken down into three stages: 1) Data collection, 2) Data entry, and 3) Spatial analysis.

Research Findings

In total, 88 articles were collected; 55 of them were climate and environmental change-related, and 33 of them were human use-related. For the climate and environmental related articles, 24 of them were on Betula papyrifera and 31 of them were on Betula utilis. For the human use articles, 15 of them were on Betula papyrifera and 18 of them were on Betula utilis. Clearly, Betula utilis is more heavily researched for both its human use and the effects of environmental impact compared to Betula papyrifera. Figures 2 and 3 show the publication dates of the articles I collected.

A chart showing environmental impact scholarly publications by date for the two birch species.
Figure 2-Scholarly articles focusing on the impact of climate and environmental changes on Betula papyrifera (orange) and Betula utilis (yellow) from 2017-2022.
A chart showing human use scholarly articles for the two birch species by year.
Figure 3-Scholarly articles focusing on the human use of Betula papyrifera (orange) and Betula utilis (yellow) from 1982-2022.

I was also interested in the particular focus of the human use articles. For Betula papyrifera, the articles I found mainly focused on scientific research and traditional and cultural uses of the species, with the former being the focus of most of the articles. On the other hand, the articles I found on Betula utilis covered a wide range of topics including scientific research, traditional and cultural use, medicinal use, literature reviews, and risks to the species. More than half the articles I collected were primarily focused on the medicinal properties of the birch species.

A chart showing the most common themes discussed in the scholarly articles on the birch species.
Figure 4-Focus of the human use of scholarly articles on Betula papyrifera (orange) and Betula utilis (yellow).

Significance of the Research

Despite Betula papyrifera being categorized as a ‘safe’ species and Betula utilis being categorized as a ‘least concern’ species (“Betula Papyrifera”, n.d. & Gowthami et al., 2021), the increasing prevalence of scholarly literature on the possible environmental impacts on these birch species is concerning. Moreover, these species are threatened because of human exploitation, deforestation, construction activities, as well as other human impacts (Ganie, 2019). Hence, more research and steps need to be taken to protect Betula utilis and Betula papyrifera as well as the species that exclusively depend on them.

Interested in knowing more about my research in depth, including how I used ArcGIS for the literature review? Then, view the StoryMap I created for my research.


Betula papyrifera. NatureServe Explorer 2.0.

Ganie, Tali, B. A., Khuroo, A. A., Reshi, Z. A., & Nawchoo, I. A. (2019). Impact assessment of anthropogenic threats to high-valued medicinal plants of Kashmir Himalaya, India. Journal for Nature Conservation, 50, 125715–.

Gowthami, R., Sharma, N., Pandey, R., & Agrawal, A. (2021). Status and consolidated list of threatened medicinal plants of India. Genetic resources and crop evolution68(6), 2235–2263.

Lewington. (2018). Birch. Reaktion Books.

Wang, Mcallister, H. A., Bartlett, P. R., & Buggs, R. J. A. (2016). Molecular phylogeny and genome size evolution of the genus Betula (Betulaceae). Annals of Botany, 117(6), 1023–1035.