Department of Biology

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Henrik Balslev

Ethnobotanical knowledge is vastly under-documented in northwestern South America

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  • Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
  • ,
  • Narel Paniagua-Zambrana, Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain ; Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia.
  • ,
  • Henrik Balslev
  • Manuel J Macía, Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
A main objective of ethnobotany is to document traditional knowledge about plants before it disappears. However, little is known about the coverage of past ethnobotanical studies and thus about how well the existing literature covers the overall traditional knowledge of different human groups. To bridge this gap, we investigated ethnobotanical data-collecting efforts across four countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia), three ecoregions (Amazon, Andes, Chocó), and several human groups (including Amerindians, mestizos, and Afro-Americans). We used palms (Arecaceae) as our model group because of their usefulness and pervasiveness in the ethnobotanical literature. We carried out a large number of field interviews (n = 2201) to determine the coverage and quality of palm ethnobotanical data in the existing ethnobotanical literature (n = 255) published over the past 60 years. In our fieldwork in 68 communities, we collected 87,886 use reports and documented 2262 different palm uses and 140 useful palm species. We demonstrate that traditional knowledge on palm uses is vastly under-documented across ecoregions, countries, and human groups. We suggest that the use of standardized data-collecting protocols in wide-ranging ethnobotanical fieldwork is a promising approach for filling critical information gaps. Our work contributes to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and emphasizes the need for signatory nations to the Convention on Biological Diversity to respond to these information gaps. Given our findings, we hope to stimulate the formulation of clear plans to systematically document ethnobotanical knowledge in northwestern South America and elsewhere before it vanishes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere85794
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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