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Henrik Balslev

Availability, diversification and versatility explain human selection of introduced plants in Ecuadorian traditional medicine

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  • G. Hart, Univ Hawaii, University of Hawaii System, Inst Astron
  • ,
  • Orou G. Gaoue, Univ Tennessee, University of Tennessee Knoxville, University of Tennessee System, Dept Microbiol
  • ,
  • Lucia de la Torre, Herbario QCA, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Pontificia Univ Catolica Ecuador, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador, Escuela Ciencias Biol, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
  • ,
  • Hugo Navarrete, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
  • ,
  • Priscilla Muriel, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
  • ,
  • Manuel J. Macia, Univ Autonoma Madrid, Autonomous University of Madrid, Dept Quim
  • ,
  • Henrik Balslev
  • Susana Leon-Yanez, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
  • ,
  • Peter Jorgensen, Missouri Bot Garden, Missouri Botanical Gardens
  • ,
  • David Cameron Duffy, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Globally, a majority of people use plants as a primary source of healthcare and introduced plants are increasingly discussed as medicine. Protecting this resource for human health depends upon understanding which plants are used and how use patterns will change over time. The increasing use of introduced plants in local pharmacopoeia has been explained by their greater abundance or accessibility (availability hypothesis), their ability to cure medical conditions that are not treated by native plants (diversification hypothesis), or as a result of the introduced plants' having many different simultaneous roles (versatility hypothesis). In order to describe the role of introduced plants in Ecuador, and to test these three hypotheses, we asked if introduced plants are over-represented in the Ecuadorian pharmacopoeia, and if their use as medicine is best explained by the introduced plants' greater availability, different therapeutic applications, or greater number of use categories. Drawing on 44,585 plant-use entries, and the checklist of >17,000 species found in Ecuador, we used multi-model inference to test if more introduced plants are used as medicines in Ecuador than expected by chance, and examine the support for each of the three hypotheses above. We find nuanced support for all hypotheses. More introduced plants are utilized than would be expected by chance, which can be explained by geographic distribution, their strong association with cultivation, diversification (except with regard to introduced diseases), and therapeutic versatility, but not versatility of use categories. Introduced plants make a disproportionately high contribution to plant medicine in Ecuador. The strong association of cultivation with introduced medicinal plant use highlights the importance of the maintenance of human-mediated environments such as homegardens and agroforests for the provisioning of healthcare services.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0184369
JournalP L o S One
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2017

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