Ethnobotany, Climate Change & Conservation Strategies in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Güicán

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Ethnobotany of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Güicán: climate change and conservation strategies in the Colombian Andes

Rodríguez MA, Angueyra A, Cleef AM, Van Andel T
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2018 May 5;14(1):34
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5935911

Ritacuba Blanco, Parque Natural Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, Chita o Guican
Ritacuba Blanco, Parque Natural Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, Chita o Guican [Photo: Martin Roca, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators at Leiden University, Universidad de los Andes, University of Amsterdam, Wageningen University, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center conducted an ethnobotanical inventory among local farmer communities in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Güicán in the Colombian Andes in an effort to determine the effects of vegetation change on the availability of useful plants in the face of expanding agriculture, deforestation, tourism, and climate change.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, the authors note the importance of research to better understand the effect of climate change on human-vegetation dynamics:

“Climate change affects altitudinal plant distribution in high-elevation tropical mountains. Perceptions on climate change in mountain ecosystems indicate that local people can give relevant insights about climate change dynamics as they are narrowly acquainted with its surroundings. From an ethnobotanical approach, climate change affects human-vegetation dynamics, like altering the patterns of planting and harvesting in the Himalayas, disrupting traditional plant practices in British Columbia, and affecting the diversity of useful flora in alpine ecosystems, and therefore threatening the traditional knowledge associated with these plants. These studies stress the need to consider local people’s perspectives to reduce the impacts of climate warming. Changes in plant diversity as a consequence of climate processes show alarming effects on plant population over time. Predictions on the effects of climate warming in the Andean ecosystems include displacement, adaptations (physiological changes), and local extinction of plant communities. Ethnobotanical research in Andean mountain ecosystems have mostly focused on medicinal plant use by local communities. Research on non-medicinal plants of importance for the inhabitants of high altitude zones, or on local perceptions on the decline of useful plants related to climate change are lacking.”

The team worked with local farmer communities to record the ethnoflora of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Güicán, which has been protected as a Colombian national natural park since 1977 because of its fragile páramo (high altitude tropical wetland) ecosystems, extraordinary biodiversity, high plant endemism, and function as water reservoir.

In interviews, they posed the following questions:

  • What are the plant species used by the campesinos?
  • At what altitudes do they collect useful plants?
  • What is the proportion of native versus introduced species?
  • Have the campesinos noticed a reduction in plant availability?
  • Could potentially declining plant resources be associated with climate change?

They also walked into the field and along existing mountain trails with staff from the national park and local farmers to collect useful plant specimens, documenting 174 useful plants, 68 percent native to the area and 32 percent introduced.

The farmers noted a reduction of native and especially medicinal plant resources accessible to them, with species like Niphogeton dissecta being more difficult to find, having shifted to higher altitudes, possibly due to climate change. (Temperatures have increased 2 °C in the national park in less than four decades.)

In their conclusion, the authors stress the vital importance of placing local people as key actors to help prevent or at least mollify the degradation of the páramos and their cultural plant legacy:

“This study confirms the concern among local farmers about the melting snow, so it is crucial to include people’s perceptions on climate change to design effective conservation policies. During our workshops, we noticed that local farmers worried about the preservation of their natural resources. Local concerns can be solved with the implementation of environmental policies and active participation that take into account the local population needs. Courses on environmental conservation for local farmers are highly relevant, especially for those who are directly involved in the tourist business. Employees from the NNP-Cocuy, specialists on plant resources management and local people should work together to develop conservational strategies towards sustainable tourism and practices and accomplish the policies that were implemented since the opening of the NNP-Cocuy, such as obligatory-guided heritage tours, limited number of tourists, and no garbage disposal in the environment.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

Send email to avery@williamaveryhudson.com for information about submitting qualified published research for sponsored posts on this blog.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Medicinal Plants Used by Saraguro Community Healers in Ecuador

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Ethnobotany of Indigenous Saraguros: Medicinal Plants Used by Community Healers “Hampiyachakkuna” in the San Lucas Parish, Southern Ecuador

Andrade JM, Lucero Mosquera H, Armijos C
Biomed Res Int. Epub 2017 Jul 4
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5514338

Investigators at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL) conducted an ethnobotanical survey of the use of medicinal plants by community healers known as Hampiyachakkuna by the indigenous Saraguro people living in San Lucas Parish, Loja Province, Ecuador.

Writing in Biomed Research International, the authors note that this ethnobotanical knowledge is endangered by cultural changes:

“The community of healers locally known as ‘Hampiyachakkuna’ maintains the ancient medical treatments of the Saraguros. The ‘Yachak’ or ‘Hampi yachakkuna’ is the person who knows the curative properties of plants, animals, and/or minerals. Under the Andean cosmovision of the Saraguros ethnical group, the diseases they treat are thought to be produced by either cold or heat. As such, their natural medicines are classified as hot and fresh; and depending on the nature of the patient’s condition, different plants are selected for the treatment in accordance with this classification. However, although the knowledge regarding the usage of plants for medicinal practices has been transmitted orally from generation to generation, the Saraguros are experimenting cultural changes that threaten the preservation of their ancestral knowledge. These cultural changes lead to negative consequences such as the loss of traditional knowledge, a decline in the use of natural resources, and changes in the patterns of food intake, medical treatment, and, furthermore, their cosmovision. For these reasons, there is an urgent need to document and preserve their invaluable knowledge.”

Working with four healers from the Saraguro community – a Wachakhampiyachak (midwife), a Yurakhampiyachak (herbalist), a Kakuyhampiyachak (bone-healer), and a Rikuyhampiyachak (visionary) – the team documented 183 plant species used in 75 different curative therapies. Uses included mythological treatments, nervous system treatments, cold treatments, infection treatments, general malaise treatments, and inflammatory treatments of the liver and kidneys.

Siphocampylus scandens
Siphocampylus scandens [Photo: Dick Culbert, Wikimedia Commons]
Endemic medicinal species identified included Achyrocline hallii, Ageratina dendroides, Bejaria subsessilis, Brachyotum scandens, Dendrophthora fastigiata, Diplostephium juniperinum, Diplostephium oblanceolatum, Fuchsia hypoleuca, Huperzia austroecuadorica, Lepechinia paniculata, Phoradendron parietarioides, Siphocampylus scandens, and Salvia leucocephala. Most of the endemic plants in the group were determined to be in danger, threatened, or vulnerable.

The study was conducted under a technical and scientific collaborative effort of the UTPL, the Dirección Provincial de Salud de Loja, and the Consejo de Sanadores de Saraguro “with the objective of recognizing and recovering the traditional knowledge of herbal medicinal resources used by the Saraguro community”:

“Because of the increasing recognition of the importance of the different medicinal species used by the Saraguros and in an effort to preserve their knowledge, in this work we seek to contribute to the conservation strategy on the sustainable uses of the Ecuadorian medicinal biodiversity. The latter is considered a fundamental step in order to raise awareness of its cultural value and the importance of its preservation. By doing that, we intended to safeguard the popular knowledge concerning natural medicinal plants and to provide a baseline for future actions regarding scientific research programs, environmental education, social awareness, and sustainable natural resources exploitation…. The results of this research also aim at becoming a starting point to attract the attention of national and international tourists, in order to promote a self-sustaining development of the Saraguro community.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

Send email to avery@williamaveryhudson.com for information about submitting qualified published research for sponsored posts on this blog.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Ethnomedicinal Plants Used by Traditional Healers of Three Indigenous Communities in the Bandarban District of Bangladesh

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Quantitative Ethnobotany of Medicinal Plants Used by Indigenous Communities in the Bandarban District of Bangladesh

Faruque MO, Uddin SB, Barlow JW, Hu S, Dong S, Cai Q, Li X, Hu X
Front Pharmacol. 2018 Feb 6;9:40
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5808248

Investigators at Huazhong Agricultural University, University of Chittagong, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and Hubei Cancer Hospital documented information on ethnomedicinal plants used by traditional healers of three indigenous communities in the Bandarban, a hilly, primarily agricultural district in southeastern Bangladesh.

The team chose three Bandarban district upazilas (administration regions) for the study (Naikhyonchari, Rowangchari, and Ruma) as their distance from cities make them some of the most remote areas of Bangladesh. Of the twelve indigenous communities, three (Chakma, Marma, and Tripura) are reported to employ ethnomedicinal herbal practices particularly heavily and were asked to participate in the interviews.

A total of 159 ethnomedicinal plant species, 128 of them native, were reported to be useful for therapeutic purposes including the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, as a sedative, for anti-tumor, anti-allergic, or carminative activity, for coughs and colds, and for boils and other skin ailments.

Congea tomentosa
Congea tomentosa [photo: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons]
The five most commonly used ethnomedicinal plant species were Duabanga grandiflora, Zingiber officinale, Congea tomentosa, Matricaria chamomilla, and Engelhardtia spicata. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, seven of the species documented in the study have never before been ethnobotanically and pharmacologically studied in Western scientific literature: Agastache urticifolia, Asarum cordifolium, Congea tomentosa, Engelhardia spicata, Hypserpa nitida, Merremia vitifolia, and Smilax odoratissima.

In their conclusion, the authors recommend a closer look at C. tomentosa and E. spicata in particular:

The present study showed that traditional treatment systems using medicinal plants is still prevalent in the studied areas, and it underlines the importance in the documentation of traditional ethnomedicinal knowledge before losing this diverse resource. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first quantitative ethnomedicinal study in the study area indicating UV, ICF, FC, RFC, RI, and JI indices. The present study records new ethnomedicinal species with their therapeutic uses, which can potentially lead to the development of new therapies and may represent novel bioresources for phytochemical and pharmacological studies, notably C. tomentosa and E. spicata, which have claimed anticancer effects by the healers of all studied indigenous communities in the study area.

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

Send email to avery@williamaveryhudson.com for information about submitting qualified published research for sponsored posts on this blog.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.