Department of Biology

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Henrik Balslev

Ecological community traits and traditional knowledge shape palm ecosystem services in northwestern South America

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  • Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, Denmark
  • Narel Paniagua-Zambrana, Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain ; Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia., Denmark
  • Henrik Balslev
  • Anders S. Barfod
  • Juan Copete Maturana, Universidad Tecnológica del Chocó, Colombia
  • Manuel J. Macia, Departamento de Biologia, Área de Botánica, Edificio de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Tropical rainforest ecosystems support the maximum expression of biocultural diversity on Earth and preserving them requires understanding and working with the needs of their inhabitants. Here, we com- bine traditional knowledge with ecological data to quantify cross-scale variation in the ecosystem ser- vices of palms (Arecaceae), the most useful plant family in northwestern South America. We sampled two very large datasets in northwestern South America: one on traditional knowledge (n = 1494 inter- views) and one on palm ecology (n = 197; 0.25 ha-transects) collected in four countries and 47 commu- nities inhabited by >10 Amerindian and non-Amerindian groups, spanning 21° latitude and 14° longitude. We grouped the 47 communities into 15 localities on the basis of geographic proximity and ethnic com- position and grouped localities into four sub-regions: northwestern and southwestern Amazon basin, the Andes, and the Chocó. We asked which palm species are most important to villagers and how usefulness is related to the morphological traits of palms, about the cross-scale patterns in palm-based forest use- fulness in different sub-regions, localities, and habitats, the relative contribution of different palm growth forms to forest usefulness, and the most valued use categories. We found that despite high geographical variation in traditional knowledge, only a few species were highly important at most localities. On all scales and in most areas, usefulness significantly correlated with stem height, mid-leaf length and fruit diameter, but not with palm abundance. Palm-based forest usefulness peaked in northwestern Amazon and was highest in the Amazon floodplain habitat, but there was large variation on all analyzed scales. Forest usefulness was significantly determined by three palm growth forms and by human food and con- struction uses. We conclude that palms are key ecosystem service providers that secure the well-being of thousands of inhabitants across northwestern South America. We advocate the need for alliances between forest-dependent people and conservation practitioners to manage these highly useful resources and the ecosystems where they grow.
Original languageEnglish
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Pages (from-to)28-42
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2014

    Research areas

  • Biodiversity, Cultural keystone species, Local ecological knowledge, Indigenous people, Natural resource management, Amazon

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