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Social organization influences the exchange and species richness of medicinal plants in Amazonian homegardens

Isabel DŪaz-Reviriego, Institut de CiŤncia i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona
Lara GonzŠlez-Segura, Institut de CiŤncia i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona
Ńlvaro FernŠndez-Llamazares, Institut de CiŤncia i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona
Patricia L. Howard, Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University; Centre for Biocultural Diversity Studies, University of Kent
Josť Luis Molina, Social and Cultural Anthropology Department, Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona
Victoria Reyes-GarcŪa, Instituciů Catalana de Recerca i Estudis AvanÁats (ICREA); Institut de CiŤncia i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona


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Medicinal plants provide indigenous and peasant communities worldwide with means to meet their healthcare needs. Homegardens often act as medicine cabinets, providing easily accessible medicinal plants for household needs. Social structure and social exchanges have been proposed as factors influencing the species diversity that people maintain in their homegardens. Here, we assess the association between the exchange of medicinal knowledge and plant material and medicinal plant richness in homegardens. Using Tsimane’ Amazonian homegardens as a case study, we explore whether social organization shapes exchanges of medicinal plant knowledge and medicinal plant material. We also use network centrality measures to evaluate people’s location and performance in medicinal plant knowledge and plant material exchange networks. Our results suggest that social organization, specifically kinship and gender relations, influences medicinal plant exchange patterns significantly. Homegardens total and medicinal plant species richness are related to gardeners’ centrality in the networks, whereby people with greater centrality maintain greater plant richness. Thus, together with agroecological conditions, social relations among gardeners and the culturally specific social structure seem to be important determinants of plant richness in homegardens. Understanding which factors pattern general species diversity in tropical homegardens, and medicinal plant diversity in particular, can help policy makers, health providers, and local communities to understand better how to promote and preserve medicinal plants in situ. Biocultural approaches that are also gender sensitive offer a culturally appropriate means to reduce the global and local loss of both biological and cultural diversity.

Key words

exchange networks; gender; plant diversity; social networks analysis; tropical homegardens; Tsimane’

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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