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Ecological apparency, ethnobotanical importance and perceptions of population status of wild-growing medicinal plants in a reserve of south-central Mexico

J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2022 Nov 11;18(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s13002-022-00563-3.


BACKGROUND: The apparency hypothesis in ethnobotany (common plants are used more than less frequent ones) has been studied mostly by comparing usefulness with woody plant density, or large plants (trees) with herbs, with uneven results. Here, we explore the hypothesis for wild-growing medicinal plants, separately for different life forms. Two methodological subjects relevant for testing the hypothesis are also treated: We compare various importance indicators, including recent use, and evaluate active healers’ knowledge of plant population size. The study area was the Tenancingo-Malinalco-Zumpahuacán Protected Natural Area in central Mexico in the upper part of the Balsas River Basin, a biogeographic region with a long tradition of using wild medicinal species.

METHODS: Previous work on the vegetation of the protected area contributed information from 100 survey plots and a species list, which included preliminary data on the medicinal plants. Then, in 2019-2020, we held in-depth and repeated interviews with 13 traditional healers in three rural communities. They were interviewed on uses and population size of a selection of 52 medicinal species of different life forms and abundance (number of individuals in survey plots). The data were analyzed with descriptive statistics, use values and linear regression models.

RESULTS: For all species, use value correlated significantly with abundance. When separated by life forms, only herbs and shrubs/lianas showed this association, though with statistical limitations. Trees did not, perhaps because some of the most useful trees have been overcollected. We found a good correlation of recent use with frequency of mention and most other importance indicators; the correlation was weakest for number of uses. Also, active healers had a good estimation of population of their collected species.

CONCLUSIONS: The apparency hypothesis should be studied separating life forms to reduce the influence of this variable. To measure importance for the study of this hypothesis, the data show that frequency of mention is a good indicator and correlated with actual use. Also, local plant users’ appreciations of population size are quite accurate in the aggregate and may be more efficient than costly vegetation surveys.

PMID:36369160 | DOI:10.1186/s13002-022-00563-3

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