SEB Student Committee members Alexander R. O’Neill and Santosh K. Rana recently published a review of ethnobiological knowledge in the Eastern Himalayas. Focusing on the northeast Indian state of Sikkim, a former Buddhist kingdom, they found that over 1,100 species of animals, plants, and fungi have written ethnobiological records in the region. The majority of these species were plants (995 species; 625 genera; 160 families) that were used as medicine for gastro-intestinal afflictions, dermatological conditions, and respiratory-tract infections. But many more were integrated into aspects of folklore and regional spirituality. Using site occurrence records, Alex and Santosh then interpolated species distributions based on altitudinal range. They found that the greatest number of species facing human extraction pressures have ranges that fall well outside of protected areas in Sikkim. Moreover, the majority of medicinals were pending IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessments. Alex and Santosh suggest data from ethnobiological publications can serve a conservation purpose by highlighting where and how intensively species are extracted from the environment. They also were the first ecologists to quantify aspects of biocultural diversity in the Eastern Himalayas, and hope that their methodology can help other scientists bridge disciplines for conservation purposes.
Alexander R. O’Neill
Student Representative of the Society for Economic Botany & Masters Candidate at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
Integrating ethnobiological knowledge into biodiversity conservation in the Eastern Himalayas