Department of Biology

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Henrik Balslev

A Biodiversity Informatics Approach to Ethnobotany: Meta-analysis of Plant Use Patterns in Ecuador

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  • Lucia de la Torre, Herbario QCA, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Ecuador
  • Carlos E. Cerón, Herbario Alfredo Paredes (QAP), Universidad Central del Ecuador, Ecuador
  • Henrik Balslev
  • Finn Borchsenius
We explored the relative importance of ecosystem diversity, socioeconomic, environmental, and geographical
factors in determining the pattern and diversity of people’s plant use in Ecuador, based on existing ethnobotanic investigations
and a large database of georeferenced plant collections. For each of 40 communities, we determined the number of plants used
and their distribution among 12 use categories. Plant species richness of the ecosystem surrounding each village was determined
using herbarium data and rarefaction. Variation in socioeconomic, environmental, and geographical indicator variables at the
community level was summarized using Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Data were then analyzed using multiple regression
and ordination analysis. We found a significant positive relationship between the number of plant species used and ecosystem
species richness, whereas socioconomic, environmental, and geographical factors had no significance. However, ordination
analysis did show a clear link among these factors and plant use patterns, i.e., the relative importance of different use categories.
Study communities were divided into two groups: 1) Andean and coastal communities with better access to public services and
markets categorized by high scores in these use classes: medicinal, social, food additives, environmental, apicolous (of economic
interest in apiculture), and toxic to nonvertebrates; and 2) Amazonian remote communities with high scores for these use classes:
food, fuel, materials, vertebrate and invertebrate food, and toxic to vertebrates. Our findings suggest that economic and social
development affects plant use patterns in a selective way. Some traditional uses will persist despite increased infrastructure
development and habitat disturbance, whereas others that reflect subsistence strategies dependent on conserved natural habitats
may soon disappear. The study incorporates more than 20 years of ethnobotanical research effort and a combined herbarium
specimen database with more than 250,000 georeferenced records. As such, it provides a first example of how a biodiversity
informatics approach can be used to take ethnobotanical analysis to new and larger scales.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Society
Pages (from-to)15
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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