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

Isabel Díaz-Reviriego, Lara González-Segura, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Patricia L. Howard, José Luis Molina, Victoria Reyes-García

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30 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 by the author(s). 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 centralitymaintain 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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Exchange networks
  • Gender
  • Plant diversity
  • Social networks analysis
  • Tropical homegardens
  • Tsimane’


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