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Opportunities for ethnobotany to contribute to community biodiversity management

Opportunities for ethnobotany to contribute to community biodiversity management

The increasing importance of ethnobotanical studies in plant genetic resource conservation

Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the dynamic relationships that exist between people and plants (Alcorn, 1995). Ethnobotanists aim to document, describe and explain complex relationships between cultures and plants, focusing primarily on how plants are used, perceived and managed by human societies. This includes the use of plants for food, clothing, currency, rituals, medicines, dyes, construction and cosmet- ics. While ethnobotany originally addressed interactions between people and diver- sity at the level of plant species, the current scope of this research field now addresses aspects of plant diversity at system, landscape, and also genetic levels. Moreover, it emphasizes the links between conservation and management, thus the human role of biodiversity, and, together with associated traditional knowledge, it creates a space for the better use of our expertise in the development of a new professionalism in plant genetic resources, as further elaborated by De Boef et al. in Chapter 7.1.

This new approach to biodiversity conservation involves carrying out action research in a manner that acknowledges and builds upon the livelihoods, knowledge, rights and customs of traditional people to contribute to the design and development of innovative conservation regimes. Within such new professionalism, research and context unite aspirations to contribute to biodiversity conservation and the empower- ment of traditional people. For example, Assis et al. (Chapter 3.2) elaborate on the historical context in Brazil, where a logical association exists between supporting bio- diversity conservation and traditional people in their livelihood development. In the current chapter, we provide some historical background on the field of ethnobotany, and explore ways in which participatory tools and research methods can improve our work in community biodiversity management (CBM).