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

Lucia de la Torre, Herbario QCA, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
Carlos E. Cerón, Herbario Alfredo Paredes (QAP), Universidad Central del Ecuador
Henrik Balslev, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University
Finn Borchsenius, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University


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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.

Key words

ecosystem diversity; human–plant interaction; plant species richness; socioeconomic, environmental, and geographical factors

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087