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Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

Reinaldo Farias Paiva de Lucena

Luiz Vital Fernandes Cruz da Cunha
Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves Editors

Methods and
Techniques in
and Ethnoecology
Second Edition

For further volumes:
Methods and Techniques
in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology

Second Edition

Edited by

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil

Reinaldo Farias Paiva de Lucena

Departamento de Sistemática e Ecologia, Universidade Federal da Paraiba, João Pessoa, Paraíba,

Luiz Vital Fernandes Cruz da Cunha

Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Católica de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil

Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves

Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Estadual da Paraíba, Campina Grande, Brazil
Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque Reinaldo Farias Paiva de Lucena
Departamento de Botânica Departamento de Sistemática e Ecologia
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco Universidade Federal da Paraiba
Recife, Brazil João Pessoa, Paraı́ba, Brazil

Luiz Vital Fernandes Cruz da Cunha Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves

Departamento de Ciências Biológicas Departamento de Biologia
Universidade Católica de Pernambuco Universidade Estadual da Paraı́ba
Recife, Brazil Campina Grande, Brazil

ISSN 1949-2448 ISSN 1949-2456 (electronic)

Springer Protocols Handbooks
ISBN 978-1-4939-8918-8 ISBN 978-1-4939-8919-5 (eBook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018959858

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Ethnobiology and ethnoecology have become very popular in recent years. Particularly in
the last 25 years, several manuals of methods have been prepared and comprised the most
classical approaches to the subject. However, there have been many advances in research
because of interaction with different disciplines but also due to new, original, and interesting
questions. When we published the first edition of Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology
and Ethnoecology (Springer/Humana Press, 2014), we were focused on presenting to the
reader the most popular and usual approaches as well as the methods of disciplines that
interact with ethnobiology, such as ecology, microbiology, and phytochemistry. The inten-
tion was that each chapter should be a script that would allow the researcher to know each of
the methods described in the literature as well as to make the best choices for their own
The vision for this handbook is to provide the current state-of-the-art methods and
techniques that are applied in the research and related fields of anyone interested in
ethnobiology and ethnoecology. This new volume, besides bringing new and original
aspects of what is found in the literature, fills some of the gaps not covered in volume
1 (first edition). We divided the book into 4 parts covering a total of 21 new chapters. In the
first part, we approached the most systematic treatment of methods and techniques in
qualitative research. The chapters cover everything from the initial stages of preparing a
research to the initial methods of treating and analyzing the data. In the second part, we
delve into quantitative approaches from a more detailed discussion on the use of the
hypothetico-deductive method and univariate and multivariate statistical approaches in
ethnobiology research. In the third part, the chapters address the theoretical and methodo-
logical challenges of ethnobiology and its interaction with specific fields of knowledge, such
as historical ecology. In the latter part, the chapters provide a description of methods used in
other disciplines such as phytochemistry, ecology, zoology, and conservation biology. Along
with the various methods covered in each chapter, the handbook also includes an extensive
bibliography that details the current literature available in the field.

Recife, Brazil Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

João Pessoa, Paraı́ba, Brazil Reinaldo Farias Paiva de Lucena
Recife, Brazil Luiz Vital Fernandes Cruz da Cunha
Campina Grande, Paraı́ba, Brazil Rômulo Romeu No brega Alves


A debt of gratitude is owed to many people who assisted on the preparation of this book. We
thank all the authors who accepted our invitation to write the chapters for this new edition.
We are especially grateful to the National Council for Scientific and Technological Develop-
ment (CNPq) for financial support in the form of scholarships for scientific productivity
provided to RRNA and UPA. Some of the chapters included were supported by the National
Institute of Science and Technology in Ethnobiology, Bioprospecting and Nature Conser-
vation, certified by CNPq, with financial provision from FACEPE (Foundation for the
Support of Science and Technology of the State of Pernambuco - APQ-0562-2.01/17).


Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v
Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
Contributors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii


1 Preparation of Qualitative Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Joelson Moreno Brito Moura, Risoneide Henriques da Silva,
Nylber Augusto da Silva, Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
2 Implementing Ethnobiological Research: Pretests, Quality Control,
and Protocol Reviews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Temoteo Luiz Lima da Silva, Joelson Moreno Brito Moura,
Juliane Souza Luiz Hora, Edwine Soares de Oliveira,
André dos Santos Souza, Nylber Augusto da Silva,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
3 Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use
and How to Analyze . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos, Taline Cristina da Silva,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
4 Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological Research . . . . . . . . 35
Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio
5 Qualitative Data Analysis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa, Henrique Fernandes Magalhães,
Edwine Soares de Oliveira, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
6 Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data
in Ethnobiological Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos, Gyllyandeson de Araújo Delmondes,
Diogenes de Queiroz Dias, Irwin Rose Alencar de Menezes,
George Pimentel Fernandes, and Marta Regina Kerntopf


7 Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically
Sound Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Thiago Gonçalves-Souza, Diogo B. Provete, Michel V. Garey,
Fernando R. da Silva, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
8 Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological,
and Conservation Hypotheses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Thiago Gonçalves-Souza, Michel V. Garey, Fernando R. da Silva,
Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque, and Diogo B. Provete

x Contents

9 The Use of Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological

Knowledge and Management Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos
10 The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual
Contribution in the Application of Meta-Analysis and the Development
of the Macro-Ethnobiological Approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán, David Valenzuela-Galván,
Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque, Francisco Reyes-Zepeda,
Leonardo Uriel Arellano-Méndez, Arturo Mora-Olivo,
Luis-Bernardo Vázquez
11 Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk Perception Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
Henrique Fernandes Magalhães, Regina Célia da Silva Oliveira,
Ivanilda Soares Feitosa, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque


12 Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological
Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Julio A. Hurrell, Pablo C. Stampella, Marı́a B. Doumecq,
and Marı́a L. Pochettino
13 Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Mariana Franco Cassino, Rubana Palhares Alves, Carolina Levis,
Jennifer Watling, André Braga Junqueira, Myrtle P. Shock,
Maria Julia Ferreira, Victor Lery Caetano Andrade, Laura P. Furquim,
Sara Deambrozi Coelho, Eduardo Kazuo Tamanaha, Eduardo Go es Neves,
and Charles R. Clement
14 Challenges in Ethnozoological Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
Rômulo Romeu Nobrega Alves and Wedson Medeiros Silva Souto
15 Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current,
and Future Knowledge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel, Luciana Martins, Aloisio Cabalzar,
Claudia Leonor Lopez-Garcés, Márlia Coelho-Ferreira,
Pieter-Jan van der Veld, William Milliken, and Mark Nesbitt
16 Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
Sofia Zank, Rafaela Helena Ludwinsky, Graziela Dias Blanco,
and Natalia Hanazaki


17 Methods in the Extraction and Chemical Analysis of Medicinal Plants . . . . . . . . . 257

Akram M. Salam, James T. Lyles, and Cassandra L. Quave
18 Evaluation of the Antibacterial and Modulatory Activities
of Zootherapeutics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
Dio genes de Queiroz Dias, Débora Lima Sales, Felipe Silva Ferreira,
Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos, Gyllyandeson de Araújo Delmondes,
Renata Evaristo Rodrigues Silva, José Galberto Martins da Costa,
Marta Regina Kerntopf, Henrique Douglas Melo Coutinho,
Rômulo Romeu Nobrega Alves, and Waltécio de Oliveira Almeida
Contents xi

19 Population Ecology of Plant Species Subjected to Extractivism:

Collection and Data Analysis Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293
Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos, Ivanilda Soares Feitosa,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
20 Noninvasive Sampling Techniques for Vertebrate Fauna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 309
Leonardo da Silva Chaves, Christini Barbosa Caselli,
Rafael de Albuquerque Carvalho, and Rômulo Romeu No brega Alves
21 Techniques to Evaluate Hunting Sustainability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
Leonardo da Silva Chaves, Christini Barbosa Caselli,
André Luiz Borba Nascimento, and Rômulo Romeu No brega Alves

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 335

ULYSSES PAULINO ALBUQUERQUE  Laboratorio de Ecologia e Evolução de Sistemas

Socioecologicos (LEA), Departamento de Botânica, Centro de Biociências, Universidade
Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
RAFAEL DE ALBUQUERQUE CARVALHO  Department of Genetics, Universidade Federal do Rio
Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
RUBANA PALHARES ALVES  Programa de Pos Graduação em Ecologia, Instituto Nacional de
Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
VICTOR LERY CAETANO ANDRADE  Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the
Science of Human History, Jena, Thüringen, Germany
GYLLYANDESON DE ARAÚJO DELMONDES  Department of Biological Chemistry/CCBS,
Regional University of Cariri (URCA), Crato, Ceará, Brazil
LEONARDO URIEL ARELLANO-MÉNDEZ  Instituto de Ecologı́a Aplicada, Universidad
Autonoma de Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
CRISTINA BALDAUF  Department of Biosciences, Federal Rural University of Semiarid
Region (UFERSA), Mossoro, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
GRAZIELA DIAS BLANCO  Laboratorio de Ecologia Humana e Etnobotânica, ECZ/CCB,
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
ALOISIO CABALZAR  Programa Rio Negro, Instituto Socioambiental, São Paulo, SP, Brazil
JULIANA LOUREIRO ALMEIDA CAMPOS  Laboratorio de Ecologia e Evolução de Sistemas
Socioecologicos, Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife,
Pernambuco, Brazil
CHRISTINI BARBOSA CASELLI  Biology Department, Universidade Federal Rural de
Pernambuco, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
MARIANA FRANCO CASSINO  Laboratorio de Arqueologia, Instituto de Desenvolvimento
Sustentável Mamirauá (IDSM), Tefé, Amazonas, Brazil
CHARLES R. CLEMENT  Coordenação de Tecnologia e Inovação, Instituto Nacional de
Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
SARA DEAMBROZI COELHO  Programa de Pos Graduação em Ecologia, Instituto Nacional de
Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
MÁRLIA COELHO-FERREIRA  Coordenação de Botânica, Museu Paraense Emı́lio Goeldi,
Belém, Pará, Brazil
HENRIQUE DOUGLAS MELO COUTINHO  Regional University of Cariri, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
JOSÉ GALBERTO MARTINS DA COSTA  Regional University of Cariri, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
MARÍA B. DOUMECQ  Laboratorio de Etnobotánica y Botánica Aplicada (LEBA), Facultad
de Ciencias Naturales y Museo (FCNM), Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), La
Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientı́ficas y Técnicas
(CONICET), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
IVANILDA SOARES FEITOSA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação em
Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
FELIPE SILVA FERREIRA  Federal University of San Francisco Valley, Senhor do Bonfim, Bahia,

xiv Contributors

MARIA JULIA FERREIRA  Programa de Pos Graduação em Botânica, Instituto Nacional de

Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
LAURA P. FURQUIM  Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE), University of São Paulo
(USP), São Paulo, Brazil
GEORGE PIMENTEL FERNANDES  Regional University of Cariri (URCA), Department of
Education/CE, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
VIVIANE STERN DA FONSECA-KRUEL  Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico do Rio de
Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
MICHEL V. GAREY  Laboratorio de Ecologia de Metacomunidades, Instituto Latino-
Americano de Ciências da Vida e da Natureza, Universidade Federal da Integração
Latino-Americana, Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil
THIAGO GONÇALVES-SOUZA  Laboratorio de Ecologia Filogenética e Funcional
(ECOFFUN), Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
TANIA VIANNEY GUTIÉRREZ-SANTILLÁN  Instituto de Ecologı́a Aplicada, Universidad
Autonoma de Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
NATALIA HANAZAKI  Laboratorio de Ecologia Humana e Etnobotânica, ECZ/CCB,
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
SIMONE DE HEK  Department for Information Management and Communication,
National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA), San Carlos de Bariloche, Rio
Negro, Argentina
JULIANE SOUZA LUIZ HORA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação em
Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
JULIO A. HURRELL  Laboratorio de Etnobotánica y Botánica Aplicada (LEBA), Facultad de
Ciencias Naturales y Museo (FCNM), Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), La
Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientı́ficas y Técnicas
(CONICET), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
ANDRÉ BRAGA JUNQUEIRA  International Institute for Sustainability, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
MARTA REGINA KERNTOPF  Department of Biological Chemistry/CCBS, Regional University
of Cariri (URCA), Crato, Ceará, Brazil
ANA LADIO  INBIOMA-Instituto de Investigaciones en Biodiversidad y Medio Ambiente-
CONICET-National Council of Scientific Research of Argentina, National University of
Comahue, San Carlos de Bariloche, Rio Negro, Argentina
IZABEL CRISTINA SANTIAGO LEMOS  Department of Nursing/CCBS, Regional University of
Cariri (URCA), Crato, Ceará, Brazil; Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, Recife,
Pernambuco, Brazil
CAROLINA LEVIS  Programa de Pos Graduação em Ecologia, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas
da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
CLAUDIA LEONOR LÓPEZ-GARCÉS  Coordenação de Ciências Humanas—Antropologia,
Museu Paraense Emı́lio Goeldi, Belém, Pará, Brazil
RAFAELA HELENA LUDWINSKY  Laboratorio de Ecologia Humana e Etnobotânica,
ECZ/CCB, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Santa Catarina,
JAMES T. LYLES  Center for the Study of Human Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA,
HENRIQUE FERNANDES MAGALHÃES  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação
em Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
Contributors xv

LUCIANA MARTINS  Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK

IRWIN ROSE ALENCAR DE MENEZES  Department of Biological Chemistry/CCBS, Regional
University of Cariri (URCA), Crato, Ceará, Brazil
WILLIAM MILLIKEN  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, UK
ARTURO MORA-OLIVO  Instituto de Ecologı́a Aplicada, Universidad Autonoma de
Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
JOELSON MORENO BRITO MOURA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação
em Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
ANDRÉ LUIZ BORBA NASCIMENTO  Laboratorio de Ecologia e Evolução de Sistemas
Socioecologicos, Department of Botany, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife,
Pernambuco, Brazil
MARK NESBITT  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, UK
EDUARDO GÓES NEVES  Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE), University of São
Paulo (USP), São Paulo, Brazil
RÔMULO ROMEU NÓBREGA ALVES  Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Estadual da
Paraı́ba, Campina Grande, Brazil
EDWINE SOARES DE OLIVEIRA  Laboratorio de Ecologia e Evolução de Sistemas Socioecologicos,
Departamento de Botânica, Centro de Biociências, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
WALTÉCIO DE OLIVEIRA ALMEIDA  Regional University of Cariri, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
MARÍA L. POCHETTINO  Laboratorio de Etnobotánica y Botánica Aplicada (LEBA),
Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo (FCNM), Universidad Nacional de La Plata
(UNLP), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones
Cientı́ficas y Técnicas (CONICET), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
DIOGO B. PROVETE  Laboratorio de Sı́ntese em Biodiversidade, Setor de Ecologia, Instituto de
Biociências, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do
Sul, Brazil
DIÓGENES DE QUEIROZ DIAS  Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, Recife,
Pernambuco, Brazil
CASSANDRA L. QUAVE  Dermatology and Human Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA,
FRANCISCO REYES-ZEPEDA  Instituto de Ecologı́a Aplicada, Universidad Autonoma de
Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
AKRAM M. SALAM  Program in Molecular and Systems Pharmacology, Emory University,
Atlanta, GA, USA
DÉBORA LIMA SALES  Regional University of Cariri, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
NIVEA DIAS DOS SANTOS  Department of Botany, Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro
(UFRRJ), Seropédica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
ANDRÉ DOS SANTOS SOUZA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação em
Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
MYRTLE P. SHOCK  Programa de Antropologia e Arqueologia, Universidade Federal do Oeste
do Pará, Santarém (UFOPA), Santarém, Pará, Brazil
FERNANDO R. DA SILVA  Laboratorio de Ecologia Teorica: Integrando Tempo, Biologia
e Espaço (LET.IT.BE), Departamento de Ciências Ambientais, Universidade Federal de
São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil
xvi Contributors

NYLBER AUGUSTO DA SILVA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação em

Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
RENATA EVARISTO RODRIGUES DA SILVA  Regional University of Cariri, Crato, Ceará, Brazil
RISONEIDE HENRIQUES DA SILVA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação
em Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
TALINE CRISTINA DA SILVA  Universidade Estadual de Alagoas, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
TEMÓTEO LUIZ LIMA DA SILVA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação em
Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
LEONARDO DA SILVA CHAVES  Department of Biology, Post-graduation Program of
Ethnobiology and Nature Conservation, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
REGINA CÉLIA DA SILVA OLIVEIRA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação
em Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco,
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
DANIEL CARVALHO PIRES DE SOUSA  Departamento de Biologia, Programa de Pos-graduação
em Etnobiologia e Conservação da Natureza (PPGEtno), Universidade Federal Rural de
Pernambuco (UFRPE–Brasil), Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
WEDSON MEDEIROS SILVA SOUTO  Laboratorio de Etnobiologia e Ecologia Vegetal (LEEV),
Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Piauı́, Teresina, Piauı́, Brazil
PABLO C. STAMPELLA  Laboratorio de Etnobotánica y Botánica Aplicada (LEBA), Facultad
de Ciencias Naturales y Museo (FCNM), Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), La
Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientı́ficas y Técnicas
(CONICET), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
EDUARDO KAZUO TAMANAHA  Laboratorio de Arqueologia, Instituto de Desenvolvimento
Sustentável Mamirauá (IDSM), Tefé, Amazonas, Brazil
DAVID VALENZUELA-GALVÁN  Departamento de Ecologı́a Evolutiva, Centro de Investigacion
en Biodiversidad y Conservacion, Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos,
Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
PIETER-JAN VAN DER VELD  Programa Rio Negro, Instituto Socioambiental, São Paulo, SP,
LUIS-BERNARDO VÁZQUEZ  Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente, El Colegio
de la Frontera Sur Unidad San Cristobal de Las Casas, San Cristobal de Las Casas,
Chiapas, Mexico
JENNIFER WATLING  Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE), University of São Paulo
(USP), São Paulo, Brazil
SOFIA ZANK  Laboratorio de Ecologia Humana e Etnobotânica, ECZ/CCB, Universidade
Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Part I

Methods and Qualitative Techniques

Chapter 1

Preparation of Qualitative Research

Joelson Moreno Brito Moura, Risoneide Henriques da Silva,
Nylber Augusto da Silva, Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

In this chapter, we present a brief discussion about qualitative research, an approach widely used in social
sciences to understand the phenomena that involve humans. Due to the importance given to the subjective
perspective of the researcher and the participants being studied, this approach proved to be an important
tool to understand the social relations of the most varied human groups. First, a brief history of qualitative
research and its main features are presented. Then, we show the steps that the researcher must follow before
starting his research. Finally, we have outlined some of the main methods used in qualitative research—
ethnography, phenomenology, action research, grounded theory and case study—with some practical
examples of how they can be used in ethnobiological studies.

Key words Ethnobiology, Ethnography, Social-ecological systems, Ethics

1 Introduction

Qualitative research is a widely used approach, especially in social

sciences, to understand any phenomenon that involves human
beings and their social relations in the most varied environments.
Since the 1920s, the fields of Psychology and Social Sciences have
been applying qualitative methods [1]. In the sociology applied in
the USA, for example, biographical methods, case studies, and
descriptive methods—all employed in qualitative research—were
central throughout the 1940s. However, as the complexity of the
phenomena studied by that science increased, the use of the quali-
tative approach decreased and there was a greater demand for
quantitative methods [1]. It was only in the 1960s that there was
a strong criticism of the use of quantitative methods, due to its lack
of subjectivity to understand human beings, which made the rele-
vance of qualitative methods reemerge (see [1]).

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

4 Joelson Moreno Brito Moura et al.

Some of the most striking features of qualitative research are

the use of different theoretical methods and perspectives, as well as
the importance given to the subjective point of view of the
researcher and the people being studied. The qualitative approach
is often used in descriptive studies that investigate the human
populations of a given region. These descriptions may be related
to the customs, beliefs, and language of some social group. In
addition, qualitative research can help in describing how people
are dealing with events and circumstances in which they are
involved, such as lack of food due to some catastrophe (see [2, 3]).
Once the decision to implement a qualitative research is made,
the novice researcher must have a considerable understanding of
existing approaches to identify which one is best applied to their
questioning. By doing this, the common mistake of not knowing
where to start or not knowing what data to collect can be avoided.
In this sense, we will show the main methods and the steps neces-
sary to execute a qualitative and robust qualitative research.

2 Preparation and Execution of Qualitative Research

The preparation and execution of a qualitative research requires

that some steps be followed to avoid difficulties during its accom-
plishment. Thus, we show below two important steps to perform a
quality research.

2.1 Bibliographic Before beginning a qualitative research, an essential step is the

Review and Research accomplishment of a robust bibliographical review to understand
Question the state of the art of the phenomenon to be studied. According to
Flick [1], a common mistake in qualitative research textbooks is not
to address in their chapters the relevance of using existing literature
to address the researcher’s questions. This is a reflection of an old
understanding of qualitative research, which occurred more specif-
ically in its emergence, where any studied aspect of a human popu-
lation was new. It is a misconception to think that there are
completely new areas of knowledge to explore, where nothing has
been published previously. However, even considering that not
everything has been researched, almost everything one wants to
research will probably be intertwined with an existing scientific
field [1].
Performing a literature review is essential, as it helps the
researcher to understand: the concepts used and discussed; the
theoretical and methodological debates or controversies existing
in the approach used; what has not yet been investigated; the social
situation of the population that is intended to be interviewed or
observed, and other advantages [1].
Preparation of Qualitative Research 5

Understanding the state of the art makes it possible to identify

gaps—open questions—and with this, it is possible to formulate a
research question that is relevant and pertinent to the advancement
of its field of interest. This is a fundamental step that will determine
the success and guide the entire study [1].
In all research, in order to be successful, the research question
must determine the best approach to be used—whether qualitative
or quantitative, for example, because the chosen method must fit
the question that we intend to address as scientists [4].

2.2 Choice Studying humans demands special attention to ethical issues.

of Research Location Before beginning the study, the researcher must obtain all the
and Ethical Issues necessary legal authorizations to execute the research in a certain
location. Authorizations may vary according to the region or coun-
try, but in the ethical sphere, something that the researcher cannot
fail to obtain is the consent of the people who agree to participate in
their study, a universal requirement [5].
In Brazil, for example, to execute a research involving human
beings, it is necessary: elaboration of a research protocol; approval
of the protocol by a Research Ethics Committee (REC); obtaining
the consent of the participant through an Informed Consent Form
(ICF) that clarifies the purpose of the research, risks, benefits,
permission to disclose the results, among other clarifications.
In view of the different requirements for obtaining certain
authorizations, in addition to the time required, when choosing a
research location one should consider the feasibility of obtaining
the relevant authorizations. Certain human populations, such as
the indigenous ones, have particularities that require specific
authorizations different from those required to study a population
of traditional fishermen, for example, and this may invalidate all
research. Thus, the question of how to gain access to the field—that
is, to the research site—and to people, is crucial in a qualitative
study [1].

3 Methods to Develop Qualitative Research

3.1 Action Research Action research is a method of the social sciences that uses a cyclical
Method way in reflecting on the improvements and/or solutions to the
practical problems that occur during a research activity [6]. Thus,
because it has interventionist characteristics, it is usually used by
researchers who seek to understand and overcome the difficulties
that arise in the learning process [7–9]. This tool involves the
participation of various types of social actors and can be considered
very useful in solving “immediate” problems that require “urgent”
solutions [10].
6 Joelson Moreno Brito Moura et al.

The objectives of this method can be characterized in two

different perspectives: (1) assisting the researcher in the organiza-
tion of a set of steps to guide the improvement of field practices
[11]—for example, to adapt the manner of conducting the inter-
views to improve the collection of data on a particular domain of
knowledge; and (2) as a tool for social change in the human group
studied, critically analyzing their power structures and investigating
the best ways of empowerment and social transformation
[12]. After identifying a “problem”, the practitioner,1 either
using or not using research techniques already established in the
literature, plans the best alternatives of action that must be per-
formed, monitors the results obtained from these actions, and then
evaluates which are the most efficient and why they tend to be
so. Thus, after reflecting on which changes were best or not, they
use or recommend a “solution” (see [7, 11, 13]). This process
involves the use of systematic approaches in the identification of
information for decision-making, and therefore may assist some
ethnobiological studies in the construction of practical solutions
that may arise during the exercise of research activities.
According to Tripp [11], there are three main types of action
research: (1) technique, in which the solution is tested by borrowing
another methodological tool, applying it directly in the actual
sphere in which it is sought to effect improvement; (2) practice,
which uses the action research cycle in the development of the
changes made to reach the determined goal, being the practitioner
stimulated to question what, how and when to make and apply
these changes, always seeking to include all social actors involved;
and (3) politics, when the objective is to have the intention of
transforming the knowledge or beliefs of the group in relation to
changes in their cultural systems—for example, the re-signification
of social prejudices. The choice of the best approach depends on the
situation of the research and how researchers articulate the ques-
tions cooperatively with each other or between the object of
study [9].

3.2 Ethnography Ethnography can be understood as a method for collecting data

based on the direct contact of the researcher with the target indi-
viduals or groups of people, during a given period, in which partic-
ipant observation and/or interviews are used to investigate and
describe phenomena in a given context [14, 15].

In this chapter, “practitioners” are the actors involved in performing any research, teaching, or extension
Preparation of Qualitative Research 7

The term, originated from the fusion of the words “people”—

ethnos—and “written representation”—graphe—appeared in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from the need of
researchers of that period to investigate the habit and customs of
populations considered exotic [16].
Ethnography is a method that requires a lot of time to be
performed properly. Usually a year or more of field work and an
equal period for the maturation process with the people being
studied [17, 18]. In this period, the researchers involved in the
study are expected to approach the phenomenon analyzed in an
effort to obtain a richer view, as experienced by individuals in the
investigated context [19, 20].
During this period, the desired information can be obtained
through the integration of other methods—such as participant
observation and interviews—these being guided by the research
objectives and by the researcher’s methodological positioning,
regarding the manner the research questions can be answered [21].
Among the other techniques used to obtain data with the
ethnographic method, researchers can also use methods such as
focus groups, life histories, photographic records, video recordings,
mapping, among others [22]. Through the triangulation of these
methods, the researcher can provide a representation and reliably
interpret what the participants say in their own words and in the
ways in which they behave [23].

3.3 Phenomenology Phenomenology is a word of Greek origin composed by the words

phainomenon, which means a thing as it appears, an appearance, and
logos, which means what it unites, unifies, among others [24]. The
term has wide use and can assume different meanings depending on
the context it finds. For example, in the philosophical perspective,
phenomenology is associated with a philosophical movement on
how to look at the world. However, in the methodological sense,
the term provides aspects of how to conduct qualitative
research [25].
The phenomenological approach in qualitative research is
intended to describe the meaning of a concept or phenomenon
from the lived experience by several individuals [26]. Thus, the
adoption of this approach offers the researchers the possibility of
reducing individual experiences of an “X” phenomenon to a
description of its universal essence [27]. In order to achieve this
goal, the researcher will conduct the research employing the fol-
lowing steps: (1) identification of a phenomenon to study; (2) col-
lecting information about how people experience this
phenomenon; and (3) description of what is common in these
experiments, which is considered the essence of the phenomenon
8 Joelson Moreno Brito Moura et al.

studied [28]. Access to such information can be obtained from

other methods, including interviews, conversations, participant
observation, action research, focus meetings, diary analysis, and
other personal texts [29].
Overall, the phenomenological method is designed to be less
structured and more open, in order to encourage the participants
to share details about their experience. In other words, phenome-
nology emphasizes subjectivity. The objective of this method is to
maximize the depth of the information collected and, therefore,
less structured interviews are more effective [29].
An example of the adoption of the phenomenological method
can be found in the study by Anggerainy et al. [30]. This method
was used for understanding the phenomena related to the use of
traditional medicine by the Davak tribe in Borneo, Indonesia. In
order to reach their objectives, these authors developed their
research by employing the following steps:

3.3.1 Identification of a They sought to identify the factors that lead people in the Davak
Phenomenon to Study tribe to adopt traditional medicine to treat sick children at home
instead of seeking conventional medical care.

3.3.2 Collection The researchers intentionally selected and interviewed Dayak care-
of Information About How givers who treated sick children at home using traditional medicine
People Experience This before deciding to seek care in modern health facilities. Informa-
Phenomenon tion about this practice was obtained through comprehensive inter-
views and voice recording, and these data were analyzed through
content analysis—it is an analysis that quantifies the frequency of
occurrence of a given term in a text.

3.3.3 Description Based on the report of ten selected informants, the authors identi-
of the Similarities Between fied six main themes in the use of traditional medicine by the Dayak
These Experiences tribe to treat sick children: (1) traditional medicine as first aid;
(Essence (2) ease of access and cost-effectiveness; (3) traditional medicine
of the Phenomenon) has not always been effective; (4) a combination of natural ingre-
dients and beliefs; (5) the importance of “communicating” with
plants; and (6) involvement with metaphysical forces.
Thus, the authors conclude that the recurring themes identified
in Davak’s traditional medicine for the treatment of children may
help to reconcile their use with conventional medical care when

3.4 Grounded Theory Grounded theory (GT) is a method of analysis and collection
of constant comparison between categories of study, which
allows the researcher to know in advance the “emergent proper-
ties” of a phenomenon, before beginning the inductive process
of formulating the research questions [31]. These properties
Preparation of Qualitative Research 9

are the first relationships verified between different levels of experi-

ence between actors and social environments, systematically orient-
ing qualitative research in the process of creation of theories
In GT, after the collection of material related to the world
views, experiences, feelings and intentions of the studied social
actors—through interviews, audio and video recordings, partici-
pant observation, etc.—the steps to develop a theory based on
data can take several paths that depend on the objectives of the
research, but always begin after the first categorizations. The end of
the process occurs in the identification of codes and social struc-
tures and the possibility of theorizing about the relations
between them.
For example, in the study of D’Avigdor et al. [35], the authors
sought to understand the current state of knowledge about plants
and medicinal herbs of a community in Ethiopia. For this, they
conducted 15 interviews integrating methods of life history, focus
groups, open and semi-structured questionnaires. The open ques-
tions sought to understand, for example, “how do you use this
plant?” “With whom did you learn to prepare these remedies?”
“What do you call that plant?” After transcription and analysis of
the data through the GT logic, some main themes that were similar
between the interviewees were identified. Among the themes iden-
tified by the authors are: “awareness of the decrease of vegetation,”
“the need to conserve herbs and medicinal plants,” and “safety in
the manner of preparing medicines.”
In Box 1 we show the steps that must be followed to develop
the GT.

Box 1 Steps to Develop the Grounded Theory:

Imagine that you want to study the factors that influence the
sharing of information among the firewood collectors of a given
location using GT. The necessary steps would be:

1. Exploratory stage.
After defining the questioning of the study, the first step of
GT is exploratory, conducting pilot interviews with the first
informants of the study to collect reports of personal experiences
about the use of firewood—the selection of participants is inten-
tional and directed to the context and the question investigated
in the study [36]. Interviews can be individual or in focus groups.
Questions should be open, such as “tell me a little bit about how
you collect firewood,” “for how long have you been collecting?”
“What are the major difficulties in collecting?” “How do you
solve these difficulties?” “Which places have the greatest amount

10 Joelson Moreno Brito Moura et al.

Box 1 (continued)
of firewood?” The use of audio recorders and memorandum
writing, field notes and reports of participant observations are
strongly recommended to enrich the analysis of codes [1].

2. Coding stage.
After the transcription of the information obtained, the
second step of the GT is the initial coding, focused line-by-line
(see Seidel and Recker [37]). The information goes through a
process of codification and comparison of categories that indi-
cates possible speeches on main themes that are similar among
the participants. For example, the following topics can be iden-
tified: how the knowledge about firewood is acquired from the
previous generation, awareness about the reduction of firewood
availability, collection safety, among other topics (see the study of
D’Avigdor et al. [35]).

3. Theoretical sampling stage.

In the theoretical sampling stage, the coded information is
now analyzed and the relationships between the discourses begin
to indicate the first categorical relationships, assisting the
researcher in the construction of possible explanations of the
data [38]. For example, “the skills of firewood collectors”
would be influencing the “way that knowledge is being passed
on” because “those who have more skill do not like to share
information.” These could be the first questions of the research
and the theoretical sampling that would direct new collections in
order to saturate these categories and concretize the relations in
that social group.

4. Theorizing stage.
In this last stage, the researcher finds at a possible explana-
tion of the relations found between the categories. This step is
the result of a thorough process of collecting and analyzing the
phenomenon and presents a structured set of relationships about
the environment, allowing the researchers to discuss their char-
acteristics or propose improvements to problems identified in the
data. At the end of our research with firewood collectors, we
could conclude, for example, that skill and time of experience are
the main factors that influence the little interaction between
Preparation of Qualitative Research 11

Identification of the topic or Careful analysis of information

question of interest about "the case"

Narration of results Information gathering

Fig. 1 Stages of the case study, adapted from Hancock and Algozzine [42]

3.5 Case Study The case study allows the exploration and understanding of com-
plex issues, especially when a deep investigation is necessary, con-
sisting of a detailed investigation of groups or organizations, with
the purpose of providing an analysis of the context and processes
involved in the phenomenon under study [39–41]. This method
allows the researcher to go beyond the quantitative results and to
understand for example behavioral conditions [40]. The case study
can present four steps, represented in Fig. 1 according to Hancock
and Algozzine [42].
Within the ethnobiological context, for example, the researcher
can represent knowledge and cultural practices associated with
health and disease cure in a medical system, providing a compre-
hensive guide of the behavior adopted by the members of the
society studied. According to Zainal [40], there are three categories
for the case study: exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory.

3.5.1 Exploratory Case It explores any phenomenon that serves as a point of interest to the
Study researcher. For example, a researcher conducting an exploratory
case study on the use of a particular natural resource may ask the
following general questions: “Is there a strategy for the use of this
resource by the population?” If so, “how often?” General questions
like these should be the starting point for a more thorough exami-
nation of the phenomenon to be studied.

3.5.2 Descriptive Case It is used to describe the phenomena observed during the study.
Study For example, it is employed to describe the different strategies that
are used by a given population in the use of a particular natural
resource. The goal set by the researcher is to describe the data as
they occur. However, the challenge of the descriptive case study is
that the researcher must begin with a descriptive theory to support
the description of the phenomenon or history. Failing with that
may lead to a not rigorous description.
12 Joelson Moreno Brito Moura et al.

3.5.3 Explanatory Case It examines the data closely, both superficially and in depth, to
Study explain the phenomena. For example, a researcher can explain
why a population uses a particular strategy for collecting a resource.
In addition, it can be used to explain more complex phenomena
that may arise during the case study.


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Chapter 2

Implementing Ethnobiological Research: Pretests,

Quality Control, and Protocol Reviews
Temóteo Luiz Lima da Silva, Joelson Moreno Brito Moura,
Juliane Souza Luiz Hora, Edwine Soares de Oliveira,
André dos Santos Souza, Nylber Augusto da Silva,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

In this chapter, we present the importance of pretests and pilot studies to identify practical problems in
relation to data collection instruments. We also present recommendations for writing and structuring
research instruments, as well as ways to test and revise them to ensure their validity and reliability. These
stages cannot be neglected and must precede the beginning of the research to ensure that the information
that will be obtained can reliably measure the phenomenon studied.

Key words Validity, Reliability, Cognitive interview

1 Introduction

Once defined the hypotheses and research questions, researchers

choose the methods that can provide the necessary information to
evaluate their ideas. In the field of ethnobiology, interviews are one
of the most commonly used basic techniques for obtaining infor-
mation (details on the various types of interviews, their applica-
tions, advantages and disadvantages can be found in Albuquerque
et al. [1]). However, before beginning data collection, researchers
need to make sure that their data collection protocols (forms
and/or questionnaires) will serve their purposes well by providing
quality, replicable data that will answer their questions research. In
this sense, the validity and replicability of the protocols are impor-
tant, mainly when different researchers will use them simulta-
neously, or when one intends to use a protocol already validated
for a new context.

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

16 Temóteo Luiz Lima da Silva et al.

Thus, we will focus on steps that can not be neglected in the

ethnobiological research. They are pilot studies, pretests, and reli-
ability and protocol validity evaluations. The pilot study involves
the simulation of the formal process of small-scale data collection,
aiming to identify practical problems in relation to the instruments,
steps, and methods of the study [2]. It is in these studies that the
pretests of the protocols occur. At this point, we can analyze
whether our research instruments are adjusted to the local reality
and the objectives of the study.

2 Designing the Research Protocol

The elaboration of the protocol is the ideal stage to ensure its

quality and replicability. Aaker et al. [3] consider that the process
of constructing a protocol corresponds to an “imperfect art,”
precisely because there are no specific procedures that guarantee
the quality of the instruments. However, there are some recom-
mendations that, when followed, can facilitate this process and
decrease the time and effort devoted to the future steps of evaluat-
ing the validity and reliability of the research instruments.
In order to elaborate the questions that will compose the
protocols, besides consulting the literature and researchers in the
thematic area [4], it is recommended to visit the communities
where the study will be developed to talk with local leaders and
experts. This can contribute to make the writing and content of the
questions more appropriate to the local reality. Clear and compre-
hensible language should be used, as well as a short and simple
structure. This way the researcher can conduct the research with
fluidity, simplicity and, mainly, does not confuse the participant.
Other recommendations relevant to the elaboration and types of
questions can be found in Albuquerque et al. [1].
In addition to thinking about the formulation of questions, the
researcher needs to look at the order in which they will be
organized, especially for self-administered questionnaires. The ini-
tial questions should be closed, simple, and need to catch the
attention of the participant [5]. Avoid starting with emotional or
controversial questions as they may cause discomfort in the partici-
pant [4]. Questions related to the socioeconomic profile (monthly
income, age, etc.) may be placed at the end to avoid causing an
initial impression of intrusion and because they are generally easier
to respond [5]. More general questions should precede more spe-
cific questions, and questions that suggest a chronological order
should be presented following that order [5]. Besides that, avoid
including questions that are not directly related to your research
goals as this may increase interview time and exhaust the partici-
pant, which would lead them to give unreliable answers.
Implementing Ethnobiological Research 17

3 Pilot Study and Pretests

By definition, a pilot study can be considered as a small-scale study

of the proposed procedures, as well as of the techniques chosen
[6]. They are mainly performed to discover flaws and/or weak-
nesses in research methods and tools, as well as to examine its
validity and replicability [5]. Although many researchers consider
that the preparation and prior planning are sufficient for the
research to succeed, the execution of a pilot study is crucial because
it can reveal subtle flaws in project design that would be difficult to
reveal during the research planning stage.
We may ask, what is the sample size that we should incorporate
for a pilot study? Considering that each study presents its peculia-
rities, it depends on the researcher to define the number of people
and how much time will be available for its accomplishment.
According to Canhota [7], the number of participants in the pilot
study does not need to be higher than 10% of the target sample
defined for the complete study. This design would be enough to
ensure results that can answer the research questions and test the
In the pilot studies are performed the pretests of the research
protocols, which consist in the testing and application of them to
verify the accuracy and reliability of the information that will be
obtained. In ethnobiological research, the main instruments that
are tested in pilot studies are the questionnaires and/or forms used
in the interviews. In general, the intention is only one: to test the
validity of the instruments that will be used to gather information.
Depending on the type of interview used in the research
(structured, unstructured, or semi-structured), there are recom-
mendations to be followed as means of assessing whether the
questions used in the pretest are understood and interpreted cor-
rectly by the people. In the case of semi-structured interviews—the
most used in the collection of ethnobiological data—it is recom-
mended to use an interview guide, containing main points that can
not be unnoticed at the interview [8].
Finally, providing the research protocols for other professionals
of the same research field to analyze is a good recommendation that
can favor their quality [5]. Thus, many of the problems with the
elaboration of the questions can be discovered even before the
pretest. The main advantage is that the information obtained
from the pretest can be used for the main study if the research
protocols elaborated do not present problems during the pilot
studies, as long as they are collected by applying exactly the same
18 Temóteo Luiz Lima da Silva et al.

4 Quality Control of Protocols

Research protocols need to be analyzed for reliability and validity to

ensure the quality of the information that will be obtained. Reli-
ability is related to the replicability of the research instrument, that
is, its ability to obtain consistent or stable results over time or in
cases it is used by two or more different researchers [9]. Validity is
the degree to which the research instrument measures what it
proposes to measure, that is, its ability to obtain reliable and accu-
rate information about the phenomenon studied [10]. These two
concepts are distinct and independent. Thus, search protocols can
be reliable, and still not be valid, and vice versa.
The reliability of the protocols can be tested by their stability
and equivalence, depending on the specific characteristics of each
research. Stability measures how stable the protocol is over time
(assuming that what is being measured should remain constant)
[9, 11] and can be verified by the test–retest technique [6]. The
technique consists of the application of the protocol with the same
individuals in two different moments [6], and can be performed
with the entire initial n sample or with a fraction group chosen by
means of randomization. The application of retest allows the
researchers to observe the consistency of the responses that were
obtained in the first application of the protocol (test), checking if
they are similar or comparable [12]. The interval between test and
retest should be well planned, especially for protocols that seek to
measure information that may change due to changes in perfor-
mance and/or learning over time. However, the technique presents
as a limitation the fact that the previous experience of the partici-
pants of the research in the first test influences the retest responses.
Equivalence is more directly related to the replicability of the
protocols and can be tested by using alternative forms of a question
with the same meaning during a single interview [11], or by the
simultaneous application of two or more different researchers using
the same protocol [9]. A reliable protocol should provide the same
information even if executed by different people.
There are two types of validity that can be tested in research
protocols. The content validity is the most basic of them and is
related to the protocol’s ability to measure the phenomenon stud-
ied. This can be achieved by inviting “competent judges” in the
thematic area to review the content of the protocol items and
determine if the instrument measures the phenomenon of interest
[9]. The judges may be specialists in the subject area as well as
members of the human population that will be studied. Consider-
ing the suggestions of these judges, changes can be made to the
protocols that will increase their content validity.
Criterion-related validity is determined when a research proto-
col can be compared with other validated measures of the same
Implementing Ethnobiological Research 19

phenomenon [13] or with a standard established in the literature

[10]. However, this type of comparison is not always possible
because of the lack of valid measures for comparison. It is important
to highlight that an instrument is valid for a certain group of
people, and it is necessary to determine the validity again when
the protocol is used in different groups.

5 Review of Protocols

The review of the protocol is an important step that must be

performed before starting the research, as it assists the researcher
in understanding if its protocol is appropriate to cover the entire
phenomenon that is intended to study. Due to the peculiarities that
certain human populations may possess, the structuring and vocab-
ulary of the protocols may not be adequate, compromising the
quality of the information collected.
In this sense, a tool that can assist in the adequacy of a protocol
for the reality of a given population is the application of the tech-
nique known as cognitive interview [14]. This technique is mainly
characterized by the use of verbal probing questions to observe
informants’ responses more completely. It assists in the evaluation
of the quality of the response or in the determination whether the
question is generating the information desired by the researcher
(see [15, 16]). In Box 1, we describe an example of how to
diagnose problems in a protocol using the cognitive interview.

Box 1 Example of the Use of Cognitive Interview to Review

Protocols, Adapted from Willis [16]:
1. In a hypothetical situation a scientist sought to understand
the criteria of the inhabitants of a certain place to collect
plants for medicinal use. Let us present a question of the
protocol of this scientist followed by questions of verbal
Question: How often do you collect plants to treat diseases?
Verb probes used to test the question:
(a) Tell me more about this...
(b) How often do you collect plants in general?
(c) What is “illness” for you?
(d) Do you look for plants with specific characteristics or
choose plants that someone has told you about which
treat diseases?
2. Comments of the scientist based on the cognitive interview:
(a) Some participants report that they only collect wood.

20 Temóteo Luiz Lima da Silva et al.

Box 1 (continued)
(b) Some participants report that they only collect fruits.
(c) Some participants are not sure what “illness” is and
confuse it with “hunger” or “sting”.
(d) Participants reported selecting plants that could serve
to treat diseases, rather than checking specific
(e) The period that the participant usually collects plants
was not specified in the question. Because of this, the
interpretations among interviewees regarding the fre-
quency of collections varied widely.
(f) Asking about the frequency of plant collections is
impractical because people may not reliably report the
exact frequency of such practice.
3. Suggested changes to improve this protocol issue:
(a) In the last 12 months how many times have you col-
lected plants? None, five times, or more than ten times?
(b) If collected, in the last 12 months, did you choose it
because of some specific characteristic?
(c) If yes, what characteristic?
(d) What part of the plant do you collect?
(e) In general, how often do you collect plants with specific
characteristics: often, once a month, or two or three
times a year?

The cognitive interview provides information on how partici-

pants formed their answers, explanations on how they interpreted
the questions, and reports of some difficulties they presented in
responding to them. In addition, the use of this technique does not
require large samples—usually 8–12 individuals is sufficient—
because when testing the viability of a protocol, small samples
quickly evidence if its structure is faulty [16].
Although it is commonly used as a pretest method, the use of
the cognitive interview can occur at other stages of the research,
and may provide information that allows the adequacy of the
protocol for the phenomenon studied.
There may be other situations in which information gathering
remains difficult or participants are unable to answer to the ques-
tions, even if the researcher develops a protocol taking all necessary
precautions. In these cases, the researcher can use the recruitment
of third parties who live in the studied area to assist during the
According to Quetulio-Navarra et al. [17], in some stages of
the interview, other family members of the interviewees, as well as
Implementing Ethnobiological Research 21

friends or neighbors, may be allowed to assist in the recall of the

information requested. This approach presents the advantage of
favoring the collection of information in which the participants
have difficulties to remember, such as names of community leaders
or specific dates, or in situations where the local language makes the
research impossible.
For example, in a study in the Bolivian regions of Chácobo and
Pacahuara implemented by Zambrana et al. [18], the authors
recruited and trained 12 residents living in the region to conduct
interviews with participants because of the local language barrier.
However, this method has limitations, since such assistants may not
be able to identify important information that participants can
provide during the interviews.
Thus, according to Quetulio-Navarra et al. [17], precautions
should be taken to reduce possible biases that the third-party
recruitment method may generate:
1. Field survey to observe who can assist in interviews.
2. Only people who share the information targeted by the survey
can be chosen to assist.
3. The participation of third parties should be controlled and
allowed only for non-threatening questions, such as in the case
of actual dates in which basic services were initiated—for exam-
ple, electricity supply services.
4. Third parties may be allowed to make suggestions, but only the
respondent/interviewee can provide the definitive answer.
5. The assistant’s name and relationship with the respondent
should be recorded and the sections where assistance was
provided should be marked.
6. Instruct assistants to leave the interview when assistance is no
longer needed.
In case the main problem of the protocol is related to the
collection of information for sensitive issues—for example, ques-
tions about details of the woman’s/man’s health when the inter-
viewer is of the opposite sex—a solution to avoid that the collected
data are doubtful or invalid is the use of a self-administered ques-
tionnaire (SAQ). The SAQ refers to a questionnaire specifically
developed to be completed by a respondent without the feedback
of the researchers. However, since the SAQ is completed without
the feedback of a trained interviewer, the questions should be
written carefully to avoid measurement errors [19].
The main advantage of SAQ is that this tool eliminates the
possible influence of the interviewer’s presence on respondents’
responses, since such privacy removes people’s inclination to pro-
vide socially desirable responses to sensitive issues [19]. However,
even if this method makes the participant more comfortable, it does
22 Temóteo Luiz Lima da Silva et al.

not ensure that the answers will always be true and honest. Besides
that, this method requires participants to be literate, which makes it
unfeasible for use in certain social contexts.

6 Final Considerations

Throughout this chapter we present a series of techniques for

researchers to ensure the quality of their protocols. Box 2 sum-
marizes key recommendations for readers and can be consulted
whenever a researcher develops a new research protocol or migrates
to a new area of study.

Box 2 Recommendations to Verify the Validity

and Reliability of the Research Protocols:
l Use 10% of the sample desired for the final research to execute
the pilot study.
l Be aware of the order in which the questions are organized in
the protocols.
l Develop the protocols in a short, simple, clear and compre-
hensive structure.
l Elaborate and review the protocols with the help of research-
ers who have previous knowledge and experience with the
subject area.
l Verify the veracity of the data obtained in the pilot study by
l Conduct a cognitive interview with 8 or 10 people before
beginning the survey.

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Chapter 3

Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use

and How to Analyze
Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos, Taline Cristina da Silva,
and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

Studying the relationship between humans and nature requires a lot of fieldwork dedication from research-
ers. In order to understand phenomena related to human behaviors and their link to nature, ethnobiologists
often use qualitative and descriptive methods and techniques, such as participant observations and field
journals. In this chapter, we define these two methods and discuss the manners for collecting, analyzing,
and presenting the information collected. Moreover, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using
these methods in ethnobiological research.

Key words Ethnobiology, Ethnography, Qualitative research

1 Introduction

Qualitative research originates from the Social Sciences and consti-

tutes an interpretative approach that is concerned with understand-
ing the meanings that people give to certain phenomena that occur
within their social contexts [1]. The anthropological tradition of
qualitative research has often been known as ethnographic research
[2], which seeks to understand and describe a social group, their
beliefs, and cultural practices through the immersion of the
researcher in the social context to be investigated [1]. However,
other authors prefer to consider ethnography as part of and not a
synonym of qualitative research [3, 4].
In qualitative research, data collection and analysis should pref-
erably be carried out simultaneously, so that analysis can accompany
the information gathering process from the outset, and thus, guide
the fieldwork [5]. It is common for concepts and hypotheses to be
developed and revised throughout the research process. The quali-
tative methods used to collect data are diverse and involve

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

26 Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos et al.

interviews, participatory methods, oral history, historical archive

research, interpretation of photographs and videos, among others.
In this chapter we focus on the approach of two methods
widely used in this type of research: participant observation and
field journal. We discuss when these methods should be used and
how the collected data can be analyzed and presented, as well as the
advantages and disadvantages of using each method.

2 Participant Observation

Before we define participant observation, we believe it is pertinent

to briefly introduce the concept of observation. According to
Richardson et al. [4] observation is the thorough examination
about a phenomenon as a whole or a sum of its parts; it accurately
captures the object being examined.
There are two ways of observing within a qualitative research
approach: non-participant observation and participant observation.
In non-participant observation, also called direct observation, the
researcher does not fit into the social group as if he were a member
of the observed group, instead they act as an attentive spectator,
observing and recording the maximum occurrences that matter to
their work [4]. On the other hand, in participant observation the
observer is not just a spectator. The researcher joins the studied
culture to record actions, interactions, or events that occur, not
only allowing the phenomena to be studied as they arise, but also
offering the researcher the opportunity to obtain information
themselves through the experience of the phenomena [6]. The
participant observer is better able to understand the habits, atti-
tudes, interests, personal relationships, and characteristics of daily
community life than the non-participant observer [4]. Within this
context, Bernard [7] emphasizes the importance of the researcher
to deeply immerse themselves in the studied group and establish
trusting relationships that can facilitate the participant’s observa-
tion work. For Minayo et al. [8], the technique is important as it
allows the researcher to capture different situations or phenomena
that are not obtained through using only questions, since the
researcher experiences the day-to-day lives of the studied culture.
An important issue in regards to participant observation is that
many researchers believe in the notion that, during fieldwork, there
is a need to act and behave in the same way as the cultural group
studied. For example, it is not because you are studying an indige-
nous group that you should behave like an indigenous person. On
the contrary, this type of behavior may sound artificial and even
cause detachment from the social group. It is most important to be
accepted in the research environment and acquire the confidence of
the group to be studied. Whyte [9] provides a great example of this
kind of attitude. In trying to adjust to the behavior of an urban
Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use and How to Analyze 27

group in Boston, USA, the researcher entered a round of conversa-

tion in which the group spoke obscene and vulgar words. The
researcher then began to act and speak in a similar fashion as the
group. Whyte [9] reports that everyone looked at him in surprise,
and one of the group members did not expect him to speak like
that, insisting that the group wanted him to remain different from
them. The researcher realized that there was no expectation that he
would become someone exactly like the studied cultural group, and
that people were satisfied with him because they saw him differ-
ently. In his study, Whyte [9] argues that in participant observation,
one must learn when to ask and when not to ask a question, just as
one must know what kind of question to ask. Richardson et al. [4]
point out that the researcher can “participate too much,” leading
them to forget about their research goals, and unintentionally
neglect them, losing the objectivity of the scientific work. Often
this lack of objectivity leads the researcher to observe the phenom-
ena not from an academic perspective (of a researcher), but from
the member of the culture with which he interacts, skewing his

2.1 Collecting Data Bernard [7] believes that the greatest challenge of participant
Through Participant observation is the beginning, that is, the arrival and installation of
Observation the researcher within a culture. The author suggests that choosing a
group that is open and easy to access will facilitate the data collec-
tion process. Moreover, Richardson et al. [4] emphasize the obli-
gation of the researcher to previously present the objectives and
justification of the research, so that there are no questions about the
objectives of the study and the degree of acceptance of the
researcher by the group.
The length of time required to perform a good participant
observation can vary greatly depending on the research objectives.
Bernard [7] argues that it will probably take a long time for the
researcher to establish themself in a social group, learn and master
the language if appropriate, establish a good relationship of trust, so
that they can ask good questions and receive good answers. For
example, for Berreman [10] it took 6 months for the residents of
the Sirkanda village in India to feel comfortable and to make animal
sacrifices in front of them, a practice commonly held by the group.
On the other hand, Yu [11] spent 4 months as a participant
observer at a Chinese restaurant to observe the differences in
perceptions of Chinese and non-Chinese employees with regard
to good service, adequate compensation, and administrative
In order for the participant observation to rigorously reach the
objectives of the research, it is important that the researcher care-
fully elaborate his notes on the phenomenon observed, describing
in maximum detail all the perceived events [12]. Therefore, before
beginning observation, the first step is to choose the ways in which
28 Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos et al.

the observations will be recorded. Later we will discuss the field

journal and field notes as very suitable instruments for recording
these perceptions, allowing the organization of the data in a way
that is more convenient for the observer.
Photography is a great recording instrument and represents
part of the photographer’s world experience from their initial per-
ception, which later can assume new interpretations of the social
group that is photographed [13]. Thus, photographs not only help
the researcher understand the culture studied, but also allow the
studied people to interpret the behavior or phenomenon that is the
subject of the researcher’s study [14]. A great example of the use of
photography to record data and social behavior is Malinowski’s
work, “The Argonauts of the Western Pacific,” published in
1922, which consists of reporting the anthropologists fieldwork
in studying human groups who lived on the Trobiand Islands (see
Another form of recording includes the use of sound recorders
and camcorders, always remembering to request permission to use
them from those being observed. We recommend the use of recor-
ders whenever there is a need to register a conversation or dialogue,
since its use allows the conversation to flow freely without interrup-
tion. Video, in turn, provides a record of details that are not
captured by photographs or sound recorders [16]. Additionally,
the video allows the studied practice to be observed at other
times, and can be interpreted after the fieldwork [17]. However,
it is necessary that the researcher have the financial resources to
produce the video, since there is a high cost to equipment and
filming staff.

3 The Field Journal

The field journal is a personal document and consists in recording

observations, comments, and reflections for the researcher’s indi-
vidual use [18]. According to Triviños [2], in the social sciences,
the notes made in the field journal can be understood as the whole
process of collecting and analyzing information, that is, they would
include descriptions of social phenomena, explanations about
them, and understanding of the study’s situation as a whole. It is
a document that has both a “descriptive-analytical character” and
an “investigative and increasingly interim and reflexive” character,
that is, it consists of “an inexhaustible source of construction,
deconstruction, and reconstruction of professional knowledge
and action through quantitative and qualitative records” [19].
We emphasize that the field journal can be used in different
types of investigations, with different objectives and forms of regis-
tration. In social sciences, for example, this tool consists of the
complete and accurate recording of observations of concrete facts,
Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use and How to Analyze 29

events, feelings, verified relationships, personal experiences of the

professional/researcher, and their reflections and comments.
Therefore, it should be used daily to ensure a greater systematiza-
tion and possible detailing of all situations occurring during the day
and between the lines of the subjects speech during the investiga-
tions or interventions.
The ethnographic study is the construction of a field journal. It
is an exercise that is based on direct observation regarding the
cultural behaviors of a social group. It is important to emphasize
that an ethnographer can have, besides the field journal, several
field notes for annotations on the interviews and observations in
the course of everyday life. While the observations recorded in the
field journal present a freer essay, in the field notes the researcher
records observations in order to facilitate data analysis [20]. Sprad-
ley [21] suggests two types of field notes: condensed and extended.
The condensed field notes involve small phrases and words, becom-
ing a practical and quick way of recording data. On the other hand,
the extensive field notes should present more detailed texts in
which the researcher should highlight the maximum amount of
observations that were not recorded in the condensed field notes.
Bernard [22] recommends that field notes be coded in order to
reduce complex information to a smaller set of ideas, making it
possible to locate patterns within the collected data set.
In the natural sciences, the field journal, which is used with less
and less frequency, can be useful to provide a permanent record of
what is happening in the natural world. As an example, there are the
journals of famous naturalists who provided information on biodi-
versity, such as Charles Darwin (see [23]). An intimate field journal
is one that reflects the field researcher’s experiences [24]. A view of
the field journal as material portraying the investigator’s intimacy
can be seen in the publication of Malinowski’s personal journal
[25], published by his wife Valetta Malinowski. In this book we
can find a very human Malinowski who did not hide his feelings of
antipathy and even the aggression by natives with whom he
worked. Undoubtedly, the publication of the anthropologist’s inti-
mate material has generated many discussions about fieldwork, but
also led to the discussion of subjectivity from the researcher who
faces the challenge of studying other cultures bearing the “burden”
of his humanity, and therefore, of their weaknesses, desires, vices,
and virtues.

3.1 How to Use The field journal facilitates the habit of observing, describing, and
the Field Journal reflecting carefully on the events of the working day; therefore, it is
considered one of the main scientific instruments of observation
and recording. The facts should be recorded in the journal as soon
as possible after being observed to ensure the reliability of what is
observed [18].
30 Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos et al.

It is necessary that the researcher know what type of informa-

tion will be recorded in the field journal in order to structure it
accordingly. For example, it may be important to record informa-
tion that describes where the fieldwork is taking place, what infor-
mation will help you understand what is being observed, and what
other information would a researcher like to have when analyzing
their notes after a week, a month, or a year. Angrosino [26]
emphasizes the importance of recording the data in an organized
manner that contains as much detail as possible, such as the descrip-
tion of the chosen scenario, the number of participants in the
research and their socioeconomic characteristics, the chronology
of events (take notes on dates, locations and time of events),
descriptions of behaviors and interactions, records of conversations
and other verbal interactions.
The field journal is important for the ethnographic process, so
that several components of the research are not forgotten. Contin-
uous writing in the field journal is also important because the
ethnographer’s perspectives and interpretations often change over
the duration of the fieldwork process. This occurs because early
interpretations are often guided by paradigms that the researcher
brings to the field. As researchers learn about the cultural system
under study, they often find that later interpretations of the same
phenomena differ from those earlier interpretations. For example,
Malinowski [15] recorded in his book: “Imagine yourself then,
making your first entry into the village, alone or in company with
your white cicerone. Some natives flock round you, especially if they
smell tobacco. Others, the more dignified and elderly, remain seated
where they are. Your white companion has his routine way of treating
the natives, and he neither understands, nor is very much concerned
with the manner in which you, as an ethnographer, will have to
approach them. The first visit leaves you with a hopeful feeling that
when you return alone, things will be easier. Such was my hope at
least.” (p. 4).

4 Analyzing the Data Collected

After collecting data, it is time to analyze. Minayo [27] recom-

mends reflection on the purposes of the analysis phase, which are:
to establish an understanding of the data collected, confirm or not
the research assumptions, respond to questions asked, and broaden
knowledge on the researched subject, articulating it to the social
context of which it is a part. Angrosino [26] suggests two main
forms of data analysis: the descriptive analysis consisting of decom-
posing the data, checking for patterns and regularities, and the
theoretical analysis composed of the explanation of the patterns
and regularities from a theoretical perspective adopted by the
Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use and How to Analyze 31

As a first step, we suggest that the researcher transfer their field

notes, audio recordings, and any other record to a computer. This
allows the researcher to have a copy of their data, as well as to
facilitate the location of any word or expression that they wish to
review or analyze. In the following sections we present some ways
to analyze the collected data, which is at the discretion of the
researcher to choose the most appropriate form of analysis, either
in function of the research objectives or in function of the types of
data that were collected.

4.1 Categories Working with categories implies grouping elements, ideas, or

expressions around a concept that is able to encompass all of
these [8]. It is a classification of field notes, grouping them into
themes [26]. Categories may be established prior to fieldwork or at
the time of data collection. However, Minayo et al. [8] suggest that
the choice of categories is made before the fieldwork, but also soon
after this, so the categories can be compared. The categories estab-
lished prior to data collection are more general and abstract con-
cepts requiring a solid theoretical foundation on the part of the
researcher [8]. For example, imagine that you, the reader, are
investigating the concept of nature from the members of a fishing
community. Before data collection the established category could
be “environmental representation,” understood as the way in
which individuals externalize what is perceived, influenced by
biological and cultural aspects [28]. After the fieldwork, suppose
that the following excerpts from the fishermen’s speech have been
1. Nature is the river and the animals that are in it;
2. Nature is beautiful, without it we would not exist;
3. It is the trees with fruits, such as mango, avocado, papaya,
banana. . .;
4. Nature is everything that was created by God.
If we were to establish categories for the above phrases, we
could say that excerpts 1 and 2 could fall into the category of
“romantic vision,” excerpt 3 may belong to the category “utilitar-
ian vision,” and excerpt 4 may belong to the category “sacred
vision” of nature. The next step is to relate these categories to
those defined before the fieldwork, which in this case was the
general category “environmental representation.” Thus, the
researcher can strive to understand how the concepts of nature
are determined by the biological and cultural filters held by fisher-
men, seeking to deepen the contradictions between the ideas
This categorical analysis can be presented in tables or charts.
The categories can be found in the first column, the excerpts from
speeches or dialogues that cover such categories in the second
32 Juliana Loureiro Almeida Campos et al.

column, and the interpretations of these excerpts related to the

listed categories in the third column, as well as the discussion of
findings based on theoretical references. If you prefer, the informa-
tion in the third column can also be transposed into a running text
just below the table or chart.

4.2 The The hermeneutic-dialectic method, discussed by Rychlak [29] and

Hermeneutic-Dialectic Stein [30] and proposed by Minayo [27], is a qualitative interpre-
Method tation of data that suggests that the actors’ speech should be
situated within their socioeconomic and political context to be
better understood, and that the categories are formulated from
this context. Minayo [27] suggests three steps to execute the
proposed method: the first step is organizing the data, where a
map of the collected data is made, involving the transcription of
the text, rereading of the material, and organization of the reports;
the second step is to classify the data by rereading the texts and
identifying relevant information that will give rise to the categories;
the third step is the final analysis, that is, the moment of articulating
the data and theoretical references related to the research topic,
responding the research questions based on the objectives.

4.3 Content Analysis The content analysis methodology is a set of communication anal-
ysis techniques aiming to obtain indicators through the description
of the content of the information that allow the inference of knowl-
edge about the conditions of production/reception of these mes-
sages [31]. The technique of content analysis can be summarized as
a treatment of information contained in messages and texts and can
be applied to the most diverse types of content, such as speeches,
documents, books, magazines, and newspapers. Given the diversity
of information to which this analysis can be applied, we will focus
on the techniques used to analyze contents collected through
participant observation and field journals.
Richardson et al. [4] emphasize the importance of looking at
characteristics, such as objectivity, systemization, and inference
when analyzing content. For example, in a content analysis in the
form of categories, presented in Sect. 4.1 of this chapter, the
authors suggest that in order to achieve objectivity, one must
have homogeneity (not mixing classification criteria), completeness
(classifying the entire text), exclusion (the same element should not
be classified in more than one category), and objectivity. Systemati-
zation consists in applying consistent rules and inference is related
to the act of seeking to clarify the causes of the message or the
consequences that it can cause.
The criteria for organizing an analysis are a pre-analysis, assess-
ment of material and data processing, inference, and interpretation
[31]. In the pre-analysis phase, the researcher should organize the
material, elaborate hypotheses and objectives, and define the field
Participant Observation and Field Journal: When to Use and How to Analyze 33

of research. During the analytical description, the material collected

and the information recorded will be analyzed based on hypotheses
and theoretical references. This phase involves the coding and
categorization of recorded units, which can be a theme, a word,
or a phrase. It is a phase of exploring the material, which involves
exhaustive readings, and is also when what is defined in the previous
phase is applied, inserting the discourse into categories of analysis.
Lastly, the inferential interpretation phase is to unveil the content,
focusing on the search for common trends among the data. The
results are treated in a significant and valid manner, and can be
submitted to statistical tests, which does not exclude the qualitative
interpretations [4]. The forms of treatment are diverse, and can
involve the calculation of frequencies and percentages, factor anal-
ysis, contingency analysis, among others [4]. In this phase, infer-
ences and interpretations of results are proposed. For further study
of the content analysis method, see Triviños [2], Richardson et al.
[4], and Bardin [31].

5 Final Considerations

As we have seen in this chapter, the use of a field journal and notes
in association with participant observation are important research
tools for ethnobiology, since it deals directly with human groups
and phenomena from nature. These methods allow the researcher
to observe and record in depth useful information for their
research. It is important to note that these techniques can easily
be complemented with other qualitative or quantitative data col-
lection methods, which can be found in subsequent chapters and
volume one of this production. Lastly, we recommend attention,
caution, and dedication in the use of these methods by the
researcher so that the results of their ethnobiological research can
be successfully achieved.


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Chapter 4

Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological

Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

The aim of this chapter is to foster enthusiasm and provide basic knowledge and guidelines for making the
use of audio and especially video recording techniques an integral part of ethnobiological research.

Key words Video, Minimal video techniques, Participatory video, Ethical considerations

1 Introduction

There is increasing recognition of the positive effect in ethnobio-

logical investigations when attitudes, emotional meanings, beliefs,
and preferences of the people using natural resources are consid-
ered. These aspects are both linguistically and corporally expressed
among humans. The need of including community perspectives in
ethnobiological research has encouraged the development of a
range of methodologies that require diverse levels of community
involvement, where audio and video are becoming more and more
In ethnobiological research the use of audio and video recor-
ders is considered common practice for the collection of data
during fieldwork. Digital recording has provided an evolution in
best practices for collecting, archiving, and communicating data.
Video and audio recording of linguistic and ethnographic data in
ethnobiology, for example, is now the norm [1]. Tape recorders are
part of a standard recommended package of equipment for ethno-
biological field research. Even digital cameras, although not often
used for filming interviews and/or recording other audiovisual data
(more likely the cameras are used to reproduce visual data), are in
the “ideal basic kit” of materials and tools that are considered useful
and/or essential [2] when going to the field. Using digital

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

36 Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

recording techniques in research does not only make it easier to

collect data, it also provides the ability to more easily share the data.
Not just share the data among scientists, it also provides great
opportunities to share data with different kinds of partners and
public. More and more ethnobiologists are interested in returning
data from ethnobiological research to the communities they work
with, as these communities are not just simple objects of study, they
are partners in an inclusive process of sharing knowledge and
creating new knowledge [3]. Using audio and/or visual techniques
some very creative and effective ways for communication have
emerged from ethnobiological researchers. Talking Books, devel-
oped by Nathaniel Bletter [4] is one of those. See Box 1.

Box 1 Talking Books:

Nathaniel Bletter, an ethnobotanist, created the first talking
books studying ethnobotany with the Asháninka community of
Paititi, Peru, and the Malinke of Kita, Mali. In both communities
an unwritten local language is utilized. As the communities
requested him to return to them some documentation of the
research that the communities could refer to, Bletter realized
that books with pictures and text in Spanish or French were only
useful for the small part of the communities who could read in
those languages. They were useless for those who only spoke the
local language. With using just pictures it is difficult to represent
complex and abstract ideas like names, emotions, and relation-
ships. Bletter decided that the optimal solution would be a
talking picture book that plays short audio clips of the names
and uses of the plants in the pictures in the native language. The
book had to be water-resistant, it should run on rechargeable
solar power so that it could be used in communities without
electricity and batteries; and it had to be inexpensive enough to
produce copies for all families. The books turn out to be effective
tools for retaining and returning traditional knowledge of many
kinds to remote, nonliterate communities; and to preserve and
stimulate new interest in this knowledge within and among

In processes of development communication video has been

used for more than 30 years [5]. In ethnobiology video in partici-
patory research is known as an important tool for creating local
impact [6]. However, the variety of ways in which video can be
applied has been poorly documented, with very few descriptions of
the methodologies used [5, 7]. Video can be used in many different
ways, for a high diversity of objectives. Lie and Mandler [5] present
a typology of video in development communication that helps in
Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological Research 37

creating a better knowledge and understanding of this diversity, and

to choose what technique fits best the objective. We think this
typology might also serve as a useful framework for ethnobiological
researchers who wish to use video in their communication:
– Video for data collection and reporting. Video can be used for
primary data collection as well as for secondary data analysis.
This type of videos can be used as input for monitoring and
evaluation processes and/or for encouraging end-user partici-
pation and donor convincing.
– Video for capacity building and learning. This type of videos is
commonly used in extension activities to facilitate the introduc-
tion of new practices, methods and techniques, and in training
sessions. They are also useful for the exchange of experiences
and for stimulating reflection and shared learning.
– Video for awareness raising (general public) and advocacy (specific
audience): This type of videos is often a persuasive documentary
style, produced to alert people to certain issues, ideas, concepts,
or problems. Videos for awareness raising and advocacy are most
effective when they are part of a well-designed communication
– Video for stakeholder engagement and discovery. This type of
videos are focused on sharing stakeholders’ knowledge, experi-
ences and perceptions and for learning, mediation, negotiation,
conflict resolution, and encouraging action. Video can be one of
the tools in a participatory process.
Particularly, video ethnographies can vividly show what plants,
animals, objects and/or events mean to people, which depends on
what they are emotionally and corporeally experiencing at that
moment, as a result of their past experiences. Video is an important
contribution to this end in the understanding of local knowledge,
practices and decision making related to natural resource use and
management. Natural resource management is part of a sociocul-
turally specific context, and video could be the best tool to identify
local values and emotional reactions of the people participating in
our studies. Working with video helps us to meticulously record the
expressive resources (such as facial expressions) used in the conver-
sations in interviews and/or workshops.

2 The Minimal Video Technique

Using tape recorders for audio is relatively easy and does not
require specific expertise or a high financial input to obtain the
equipment. More than obtaining new technical skills to be able to
use this technique, researchers need to internalize/naturalize it so
that there is no shame or fear to create understanding for using
38 Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

recording devices when working with communities. This is consid-

ered different though with the use of video. It is often thought that
including audiovisual recording, one requires very specific technical
and artistic skills and highly expensive equipment to be able to
produce material of high quality. Including video in research creates
enthusiasm, but often is seen as another “problem”. When a video
is included as a planned result of a research project, a video produc-
tion company is being hired to do so. Users of cameras working
with local communities have been criticized for using a sophisti-
cated technology in a rural setting, overwhelming the communities
who make part of the research. However, with the advancement of
the digital era and the quick development and democratization of
communication tools like the internet, smartphones, high quality
nonprofessional cameras, and easy-to-use free software for editing
and sharing videos, video has become a widely used, easy access,
low-cost, high-impact technique. It is recognized that working
with video in communities attracts people’s curiosity, it overcomes
the hurdles of local languages and illiteracy and it sits comfortably
with the narrative culture that prevails in many indigenous com-
munities where oral traditions predominate [6].
Minimal video, as a concept first mentioned by Lie and
Mandler [5], but mainstream among mobile journalists world-
wide (for an example, see the mobile journalism handbook:, is a strategy to include video
communication based on the digital equipment and the experi-
ences and skills locally available. With little effort people learn the
basics of making a video and use their smartphones to make
and/or show them. As most smartphones have high quality
cameras, the quality of the video will mainly depend on the
experience and skills of the video maker. Researchers can decide
to depend on their own experience and skills, or they can tap
from an ever-growing source of nonprofessionals with highly
developed skills, also within local communities researchers work
in. For a good start some basic tips for using a smartphone for
making video are presented in Box 2.

Box 2 Tips for Filming with a Smartphone:

1. Think before filming. Make a film plan, however small your
video will be. In this plan respond the following questions:
With what OBJECTIVE is the video made? WHAT is the
message? For WHOM is the message? What images do I
need to tell the story right? What is the context in which I
wish to film and is this context right for filming? WHERE is
the video shown and HOW?
2. Always ask for the approval of the persons you wish to film.
Accept and respect it when people do not want to be filmed.

Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological Research 39

Box 2 (continued)
3. Put the settings of you smartphone camera on the highest
quality available (often HD) and experiment with/under-
stand the different settings of the film software that is on
your phone.
4. Make sure you have enough memory available for the videos.
Filming occupies much more space then taking pictures.
5. During filming, put your phone in airplane mode, so you will
not be called while filming.
6. Film horizontally.
7. Film stable images; do not move the camera too much, film
what is moving from a stable position. It is best to use a
8. Be aware of the light and the direction of the light. Try to
film with the light source being behind the camera.
9. NEVER use the digital zoom. Get as close as possible to
your subject.
10. If the filmed material will be edited in a separate editor later
on, film short clips of minimal 3 up to 10 s. This will also
force you to film the essential.
11. Film a diversity of shots, from total shots to details. In video,
rhythm is in the variety. It is rhythm that makes video
attractive to watch.
12. The sound is important in video. Be aware that the micro-
phone of a smartphone is good enough for recording sound
when placed near the source, but creates low quality sound
while filming. Best is to record sound with a second device
and later unite this audio with the visuals.
13. If you have no experience with any editing software, plan
your images and their sequence well and use the pause
button (this is where you cut one scene to move on to the
following scene) on your phone to create a logical sequence
of a variety of clips.
14. Simple editing of video can be done with apps on the smart-
phone. For more advanced editing, using editing programs
on desktops or laptops, like imovie or moviemaker, are
recommended. There are also online programs for simple

Minimal video as a technique in research and development

processes is seen as a strategy to produce mainly low-quality videos,
not apt for wider screening, but useful for collection of raw data,
internal communication processes, networking, pretesting of ideas,
monitoring of local processes and for extension/education mate-
rial. However, a lot of the material produced during research and
40 Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

development processes could be reformatted for wider screening,

independent of the technical quality of the videos filmed under
nonprofessional circumstances. The message and the story often
have more impact than the quality of the image.
Apart from some technical skills and the equipment, the quality
of a video depends mainly on the understanding of how audiovisual
language, one could see video as another language, works. The
camera does not tell the story. It is the one behind the camera.
With video, it becomes possible to: “talk” a universal language, be
quick and immediate, easily synthesize, relate to emotions and
intuitions, collectively create, reutilize materials, and reach a larger
public. There are several cinematic tools to help you do so. A good
first step to grab audiovisual language is to know the basics of shot
composition, so on how you arrange the framing of your shot,
depending on the effect you want to create. In Table 1 the main
composition techniques and their effects are presented. Working
along the presented basics will improve the quality of the images
and the story.

Table 1
Basic shot composition techniques

Composition technique Effect

1. Rule of thirds: divide the image in equal thirds Creates depth and senses of kinesis and movement
with two horizontal and two vertical lines (many
cameras have a function with which these lines
can be visualized in your visor). Place the subject
of interest along one or more of the horizontal or
vertical lines, or on one of the four intersections;
never in the center of your image. Using the
imaginary diagonal lines is also an option
2. Contrast between subject and background Creates depth and orientation towards the subject
3. Angle of the camera Normally the camera is places at eye height of the
subject. Filming from below (looking up) creates
a sensation of power of the subject, filming from
a higher point (looking down) creates a sense of
power of the public
4. Frame (what is within the borders of your image) A: gives a broad perspective and an overview of a
your subject in different ways depending on what situation
the public needs to know and feel from that shot. B: more personal and good for conversation and
Three basic shot types: (A) wide shot, emotions
(B) medium shot (C) close-up shot C: for focus on emotions and details
5. Include visual well-known symbols The symbol will tell it all without words
Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological Research 41

Creating a video is divided into three, sometimes two if one

decides to not edit the material, production phases (followed by a
post-production phase for showing, sharing, and using the video),
with every phase being a process on its own:
1. The preparation phase—from idea to a working plan. During
this phase, a simple plan that includes a visual plan is being
created. Creating a plan guides the content. It focuses on
specifying the objective, the public, the message, the resources
and skills needed, and the list of images to be shot (and how
these should be shot). For one video only one specific objec-
tive, one specific public, and one specific message should be
defined. The more specific these are, the more impact the video
will have. Working according to a plan helps in avoiding irrele-
vant information, the repetition of information and diluting
the key message, as there will be so many interesting things to
film while in the field. Having a plan also makes it easier to
share, discuss, and obtain approval for the idea. See Box 3 for
basic guidelines of a simple video plan.

Box 3 Guidelines for a Video Plan: the chapters of the plan

Chapter 1: Description of the context and the general idea

Chapter 2: The objective of the video. Is it for reporting and/or data
collection, for capacity building and learning, for awareness raising and
advocacy, or for stakeholder engagement and discovery (remember the
typologies as presented in Box 3)
Chapter 4: Description of the public for whom the video is meant to be. The
more general the public, the less specific the effect of the video
Chapter 5: The message. Description of what it is exactly that has to be
communicated with the video
Chapter 6: Resources and sources needed to make this video. Here it is
defined what equipment will be used, who will be involved doing what, if
financing is needed and where it will come from, what authorizations have
to be given, what is the best time of the year for certain characteristics of a
plant and/or depending on seasonal or climatic conditions (both
influencing plant and human activity)
Chapter 7: A script that includes at least a detailed list of the shots necessary
to film. Including a story board, which is common method for a
visualizing the shots and the sequence of the shots, facilitates sharing,
discussing, and analyzing the plan

2. The recording phase. This is the phase in which the planned

shots are being made. Following the plan developed in the first
phase will not only help to focus, it will make the whole process
from filming to post-production much more efficient. Still, be
flexible and open to unplanned situations and possibilities.
Make sure that the filmed material is well archived, with at
least one copy on a separate device.
42 Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

3. The edition phase. This is the phase in which different sources

of sound, like a voice-over or music can be added. Texts can be
added. Images can be digitally corrected in color and framing.
This is also the moment in which it will become clear if the plan
works. During editing the whole plan can be changed. During
editing one can, with the same material, produce different
videos with different objectives and for different types of
Even simple video clips profit from a good preparation. Apart
from ethnobiologists being able to produce quality videos with
minimal equipment and expertise, it might be worthwhile to con-
sider including filmmakers in the research process making part of
interdisciplinary work. Combining science and art creates wonder,
and wonder is a strong motor for curiosity and change.

3 Video in Participatory Research

Documentation and data collection is often done in an extractive

way, but the demand for a more effective interaction between
different knowledge bodies, like local knowledge and scientific
findings, is growing. Participatory video provides a way for local
communities to communicate their ideas, innovations, theories
and decisions not only to each other but also to researchers. The
videos produced give totally different insights, going beyond sta-
tistics and reports. There is an interesting trend in research and
development processes, in which the use of video is growing,
towards farmer-led (or local-led) documentation and data collec-
tion for effective change and learning [8]. The creation of simple
audio and/or visual material by local actors is very powerful, not
just for the, often, unexpected data and local perspectives the
videos can provide, but more for the process of interaction it
creates. Using video facilitates the interaction between researchers
and their counterparts in the community, but also among com-
munity members, and among communities. In participatory video
the quality of the product is definitely not as important as the
quality of the process [9]. Minimal video techniques can very well
provide for the objective defined. With minimal training anyone
can learn how to use a video camera to tell their story in their own
local context.
First of all, one has to realize that there is a high diversity in
participatory video methods and approaches, and there is no single
Audio and Video Recording Techniques for Ethnobiological Research 43

accepted way of doing it [9]. At the same time there is little

documentation about processes of participatory video in research
and literally no scientific publications can be found in ethnobotani-
cal journals describing, discussing or analyzing in detail the process
of development or resulting participatory videos [7, 10]. “Insight-
share” (see is the leading organization pioneering
the use of participatory video for empowering individuals and com-
munities. Box 4 shows an adapted overview of participatory video in
a nutshell, as presented by Insightshare. Insightshare shows experi-
ences with the use of video techniques that combine the iterative
and highly responsive nature of video with the more systematic
structures of research, providing a rigorous but engaging process
that includes triangulation of different evidence sources [11].

Box 4 Participatory Video in a Nutshell:

1. Identify the digital equipment, video abilities and enthusi-
asm/interest available locally.
2. Organize a workshop in which participants rapidly learn how
to use video and/or editing equipment through games and
3. The researcher/facilitator help groups identify and analyze
important issues in their community by adapting a range of
participatory research tools with participatory video
4. Short videos and messages are directed and filmed by the
trained community members.
5. Footage is shared with the wider community at daily
6. A dynamic process of community-led learning, sharing, and
exchange is set in motion.
7. Communities are involved to varying degrees in editing their
films, but they always have full editorial control.
8. Completed films can be used for horizontal and vertical

4 Ethical Issues to Consider

Digitalization and the quick development and democratization of

communication tools provide the possibility to create an ethnobio-
logical knowledge base that is increasingly being shaped by more
open and participatory documentation, which can include more
bottom-up content [1]. However, we wish to repeat here the
recommendations made by Fuller [10]: pay attention to the ethical
and practical issues involved in the planning of documentation
44 Simone de Hek and Ana Ladio

regarding practices that involve the use of plants; discussing the

ethical issues relative to ethnobiological research with the involved
community, including obtaining informed consent; and assessing
commercial implications in case the video is exhibited to large
audiences, including the discussion of the intellectual property
rights. The Code of Ethics as developed by the International Soci-
ety of Ethnobiology (see and adopted by
its members in 2006 has been a reference for many pioneers work-
ing with video in research and development.

5 Conclusions

Audio and Video Recording Techniques are rarely used alone; they
are typically part of a series of ethnobiological methods and proce-
dures. These techniques might represent a valuable tool to analyze
ethnobiological data because they allow a given practice or local
voice to be captured in its minute and subtle details. It seems to be
paradoxical that within a discipline such as ethnobiology that deals
with local perceptions that involve emotions, feelings and subjec-
tivities, and that recognizes the value of words and actions as a
modus operandi to reproduce traditions, these techniques are not
being formally privileged. In our opinion, with the help of audio
and video recording we can identify the various forms of conceiving
biocultural diversity, and consequently, add more multiculturalism
in our investigations.


1. Harrison KD, Sariahmed K (2014) Linguistic 6. Garrett BL (2011) Videographic geographies:

and audio-video collections in ethnobiology. using digital video for geographic research.
In: Salick J, Nesbitt M, Konchar K (eds) Curat- Prog Hum Geogr 35:521–541
ing biocultural collections: a handbook. Royal 7. Grasser S et al (2016) Children as ethnobota-
Botanic Gardens, Kew nists: methods and local impact of a participa-
2. Albuquerque UP et al (2014) Methods and tory research project with children on wild plant
techniques in ethnobiology and ethnoecology, gathering in the Grosses Walsertal Biosphere
Springer protocols handbooks. Springer, Reserve, Austria. J Ethnobiol and Ethnomed
New York. 12:46
4614-8636-7_2 8. Rüter D, Piepenstock A (2008) Farmer-led
3. Pérez-Ojeda del Arco A et al (2011) What have documentation. GTZ-participatory-web
we forgotten? Returning data from ethnobio- 9. Chowdhury A H, Hauser M (2010) The
logical research to local communities. Bioremed potential of moving pictures: does participa-
Biodivers Bioavail 5(Special Issue 1):22–27 tory video enable learning for local innovation?
4. Bletter N (2006) Talking books: a new method Author manuscript, published in ISDA 2010,
of returning ethnobiological research docu- Montpellier
mentation to the non-literate. Econ Bot 60 10. Fuller RJ (2007) Guidelines for using video to
(1):85–90 document plant practices. Ethnobot Res Appl
5. Lie R, Mandler A (2009) Filming for rural 5:219–231
change. Video for development. © CTA and 11. Lunch N, Lunch C (2006) Insights into par-
FAO 2009 ticipatory video: a handbook for the field.
Chapter 5

Qualitative Data Analysis

Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa, Henrique Fernandes Magalhães,
Edwine Soares de Oliveira, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

In this chapter, we describe the main tools of qualitative analysis, from the approach used for a representa-
tive sampling to transcription of information, coding and triangulation of the obtained data. Transcription
consists of a pre-analysis of the material in which the researcher systematizes the information for further
analysis, while coding consists of the treatment of qualitative data by naming passages of text and
categorizing their contents. Finally, the triangulation of data seeks to confront results, with the purpose
of evaluating the reliability and generalizations of interpreted information. With this, we hope to provide
methodological support to ethnobiologists who choose to direct their investigations from a qualitative

Key words Ethnobiology, Qualitative analysis, Qualitative methodology

1 Introduction

Qualitative research uses a variety of data collection methods (inter-

views, memorandums, field notes, participant observation, etc.).
However, in order to transform the reports into usable data, all
the information obtained by these tools need to be transcribed, and
these texts are the fundamental data sources for coding and analysis
[1]. The analysis of qualitative data can offer rich complementary
explanations about the characteristics of the systems of knowledge
studied by ethnobiology.
Thus, we will describe the main tools and stages of the qualita-
tive analysis, such as how a representative sampling is to be per-
formed, the forms and guidelines of transcription of the data
collected in the field, the methods of coding and categorizing of
the information collected (grouping and relating discourses and
behaviors). Finally, we show the main methods to triangulate this
information to avoid misinterpretation of reality or to explore
perceived contradictions in the material.

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

46 Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa et al.

2 Population Sampling

The qualitative researcher usually does not know a priori the quan-
tity and total characteristics of the people that are part of the
observed social context, and the ideal sample for the research
questions are based on the exhaustion of the information about
the categories of analysis, or the so-called theoretical saturation.
Theoretical saturation, a concept first discussed in 1967 by
Glaser and Strauss [2], is a form of “sample design” of qualitative
research. Once the question of the study has been developed, the
researcher goes to the field and begins to intentionally interview the
informants involved in the phenomenon, initiating the data collec-
tion of the study [3]. This collection will supplement the first
information banks and allow for the codification of the first dis-
courses and responses of the people involved,1 and it is finalized
when new people (new discourses) do not reveal new “codes”
about the phenomenon [4]. This approach for participant selection
is commonly applied in qualitative research and shows the impor-
tance of coding as a sampling guide. However, in general, how
many people are necessary to exhaust the thematic information?
This question is widely discussed in the social literature.
Accomplishing a representative sample in qualitative studies
generally focuses on three main assumptions: knowledge of the
past, would basically look at the published literature and follow
the selection of participants used by previous studies; researcher
experience, in which the number of people sufficient to saturate
the categories of analysis is defined according to the “complexity”
of the social context, and the theoretical and practical knowledge of
the researcher or research group is the “final decision” about the
participants of the study; and the quasi-empirical basis, in which the
number of participants is determined by a series of researches that
directly studied the characteristics of theoretical saturation (see
[5]). The first two are critical as to the subjectivity of the sample
selection. However, the latter is based on studies that have used the
quantitative analysis methodology to investigate which population
sampling is ideal in the surveys.
Several studies of qualitative sampling have shown that the
theoretical saturation of several topics and research topics is
achieved with relatively small samples, which vary practically
between 10 and 50 people [6]. Guest and colleagues [7] sought
to raise data for the development of HIV and sexual health infor-
mation for communities in Nigeria and Ghana. They interviewed
60 women over 18 with active sexual life using standardized ques-
tionnaires and semi-structured interviews, enquiring their

Coding is to identify passages of different people that relate to the same “code” developed by researchers, see
Sect. 3 of this chapter.
Qualitative Data Analysis 47

behaviors, prevention and knowledge about topics related to their

intimate lives. After intense coding and analysis, they found that
only 12 informants were required to saturate 100 codes (92%) and
80 of them (73%) by the first six informants. Hagaman and Wutich
[6], investigating the order of appearance of the research categories
of four populations from different social contexts (related to water
management, income, and access to drinking water), showed that
12–16 interviews were necessary to record the common themes
within each culture, while 20–40 interviews were necessary to
record the themes shared by all the people in the sample. These
authors also argue that this number of interviews is sufficient when
the phenomena studied are local and well contextualized, while
large and heterogeneous groups of people require a greater effort
to collect and select the sample units [6].
Based on this discussion, understanding that qualitative meth-
ods are different from quantitative ones, ethnobiological investiga-
tions that choose to use inductive research approaches should
follow the same qualitative research assumptions for sample selec-
tion, namely, delimit well the phenomenon to be investigated,
define a minimum limit of interviews for intracultural surveys and
qualitatively select the informants, as well as systematically encode
the information collected (see [8] for example of qualitative analysis
in social-ecological systems).

3 Data Transcription

After finalizing the data collection (see Chap. 1), it is necessary to

proceed for analysis of the information. Transcription then
becomes a pre-analysis of the material. Its guidelines assist research-
ers to organize information systematically (regardless of analytical
techniques and tools that will be used) for further analysis [9]. It is
noteworthy that the transcription of the data is an important step of
the research and not just a technical detail that precedes the analy-
sis. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to define what the rules
and criteria will be that will lead to the transcriptions, so that they
contain all the elements necessary to transform the information
into usable data.
Depending on the purpose of the research, it is interesting that
the transcripts are performed only as required by the study ques-
tion. Thus, the time and energy that would be invested in the
process of transcribing unnecessary elements (such as interruptions
or random subjects that come up in the conversation with the
interviewee) would be invested in the interpretation of the data.
There are cases, however, in which it is important that all elements
are transcribed, allowing for further detailing of subsequent analy-
sis [10]. In this sense, the transcription can be complete (all the
context and discourse, including pauses, interruptions, etc.), par-
tial or summarized (only extracts that are relevant to the research).
48 Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa et al.

Because there is no general pattern and because it is a process

that requires a lot of time from the researcher, it is important to
determine a standard so that all transcripts present the same struc-
ture, such as the word processor that is used, the most adequate
fonts, specific formatting for certain situations, among other ele-
ments (exemplified in Box 1). This standardization in the structure
minimizes the time consumed in locating the elements in the
interviewees’ speeches.
Throughout the process, it is fundamental that the researcher is
guided by the research question that the analysis seeks to answer
[9]. It should always be considered that everything that is tran-
scribed and the form that this transcription is structured, influences
the process of data analysis [9].

Box 1 Example of Useful Elements for Structuring a Trans-

cript (Adapted from Flick [10]):
Word processor Microsoft Word 2016
Font Times New Roman 12
Margins Left 2 cm, Right 5 cm
Spacing 1.5 cm
Numbering Above and right of each page
Interviewer Sı́mbol: Entrdor
Interviewee Sı́mbol: Entrdo
Transcript conventions used
Type of Complete
WORD Caps Lock: indicates increased sound amplitude
Word Underlined: indicate stress
(1, 2, etc.) Pauses: in the speech of the interviewee or between
interviewees, in seconds
[...] Text cutting: Speech considered unnecessary for research
(words...) Incomprehensible words: transcription breaks and “best
chance” of the transcriber

4 Coding

The identification and refinement of important concepts are funda-

mental steps in qualitative research. These processes often begin with
simple observations interpreted separately and then grouped and
organized into research categories [11], which can result in a large
Qualitative Data Analysis 49

volume of material. Thus, methods that allow for the organization of

this data in a practical and didactic manner need to be adopted [10].
Codification consists in the treatment of qualitative data by
naming text passages, categorizing their contents [12]. Thus, the
researcher can establish a structure of thematic ideas, directing their
reasoning in the text and, consequently, making possible the inter-
pretations of its content [11].
This process can be classified, according to Gibbs [13], based
on three criteria, exemplified as follows (Box 2): (1) descriptive
coding, in which we use similar words or even original terms of
the text under analysis, repeating briefly the primary idea conveyed
by the data; (2) analytical codification, in which we seek to apply a
code to refine the interpretation of the text, aiming at a deeper
understanding of its content; and (3) theoretical coding, which
intends to elaborate a theory that makes possible the explanation
of the analyzed data.

Box 2 Example of Encoding Process, Inspired by Gibbs [13]:

Qualitative data Coding Classification

“Whenever it rains we plant: the pasture Landscape Descriptive
becomes green and beautiful”
“Whenever we have the flu, we go quickly Adaptive Analytical
for the lemon balm or mint tea” response
“The foxes that invade our yard and eat our Trophic Theoretical
chickens do not even serve to eat: we just competition
kill them”

The way the researcher encodes a given qualitative data

depends on the type of filter that is applied. In other words, the
same data can be codified based on different classification criteria,
depending on the view of the researcher who interpret and analyzes
the information [14]. For example, qualitative research on the
medical practices of a particular local community can identify
reports as in the following passage:
Normally I water my plants every morning as soon as I get out of bed (...), but
watering should be one of the first things I think when I wake up. I come back
and check once again if the plants that were very wilted in the morning had
already regained the vigor that I know they have, which indicates that the water
was well used by them (. . .). It’s such a joy to see them [the plants in the yard] at
this period because I feel good and I know that taking good care of them always
will have them close to me.

The habit of worrying about backyard plants can be categor-

ized as “concerns about the loss of medicinal plants,” “leisure
activities” or even “occupational therapies.” It depends, of course,
on the purpose of the study that investigates this social activity, and
therefore, the importance of the detailed explanation of the whole
process of analysis and categorization of textual information [10].
50 Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa et al.

Among the main coding techniques used by researchers in

different areas, two deserve special mention because they are espe-
cially simple and useful. The first of these is line-by-line coding, in
which each line of text is encoded, even if it does not correspond to
complete sentences. The second is the case-by-case comparison, in
which parts of the text of the same document, or excerpts of
different documents, are compared (examples of these two types
of coding in Box 3) [13].

Box 3 Example of Line-by-Line Coding and Case-by-Case

Text Coding
“I’ve raised my goats since I was a boy. (...). Have always raised
I do not like to depend on others, (...). animals
(. . .) the whole problem is when the weather changes Considers himself/
greatly, the droughts are terrible.” herself independent
Climate change is a
Case-by-case comparison
Informant Biography Attitude towards
raising animals
Sir x He has been raising goats since Full dedication
childhood. He has many. Lives alone
and does not rely on anyone’s help
Mrs y She raises chickens at home. She is a full- Partial dedication
time teacher. The animals are
unconfined all day and confined in the
Sir x He does not raise animals, despite having No dedication
parents farmers. He is a full-time
driver. Lives with the parents

Regarding the first technique, we can note how complex and

detailed a coding process can be. In the second, conversely, the
researcher seeks divergences and/or similarities that enable them to
identify relationships and patterns, inspiring the creation of codes
for the various compared cases [10]. After coding, the researcher
can systematically access the coded texts, comparing how these
variations occur [11].
Manual coding is ideal for collections whose samples are rela-
tively small. However, if the research contains large samples, the use
of specialized software in the qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS—
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software) is essential
[14]. Besides the sample size, the time available and the researcher’s
experience should be evaluated in order to choose the type of
method to be used in the analysis of the collected data [15].
Qualitative Data Analysis 51

Tables are one of the most used resources, since they assist in
the organization of the thought during the creation of the codes,
making possible the comparison between them [13] (see example
of codification of a textual passage in Box 4). Memorandums are
also very didactic and accessible coding tools, and correspond to
field notes used by the researcher to record the names of each
developed code. Besides that, additional information can be
inserted, such as the dates each coding was made, and a description
of the idea directed to codes [14]. The CAQDAS, conversely, offers
the researcher a series of resources, helping them evaluate charac-
teristics and relationships between texts [14]. However, many
experts recommend using these software programs combined
with manual resources (e.g., print or handwritten texts). Thus,
the researcher can develop a greater familiarity with the data, assist-
ing in the interpretation and the creation of analysis codes.

Box 4 Hypothetical Example of Coding a Passage of an

Informant About His Health History Regarding the
Preference for Plants in the Treatment of Diseases. Encoding
Allows for Summarizing an Idea of the Texts Analyzed in a
Concept That Facilitates the Comparison with the Others
Developed During the Research:
“Here at home when we get sick, we only use the Coding:
same plant remedy.1 (...) and medicine of 1. Exclusive preference
pharmacy is for this new people,2 who were for plants
born in this modern time, so do not 2. Influence of age
understand medicine from the bush, right?3 3. Influence of
(...). And the plants are very good, better than modernity/globalization
the pharmacy remedies (...).4 Now when the 4. Efficacy/healing
weather is dry, a lot of plants are gone, there power
are the pharmacy remedies left, right?5 Lack of choice
Sometimes we get a little more leaf and keep 6. Adaptation strategy
it, so when the drought comes we are not left
without our medicine from the bush”6

5 Triangulation

Triangulate the information to evaluate the data collected and

analyzed in the field is perhaps one of the main steps of the qualita-
tive analysis. Here, the objective is to confront results, seeking to
reflect on the reliability and generalizations of the interpreted
information (e.g., to verify whether the reported behavior matches
the practice or to analyze different points of view of a given phe-
nomenon). This process occurs simultaneously with the develop-
ment of the study and helps researchers to resolve conflicts and/or
search for evidence on the validity of the observed data [16].
Data triangulation practices occur through tools such as bio-
graphical analysis, interviewee validation, constant comparisons, and
52 Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa et al.

textual review. Analyzing the biographies offers the researcher

varied information about how people organize their understand-
ings of the world [10].2 These narrative texts are a particular view of
the world and constitute a set of important information for quali-
tative analyzes, describing people’s life experiences with the studied
The validation of the interviewee is to compare the responses
and behaviors of the interviewees at different moments of collection
to validate them in different research situations [10]. Verbal valida-
tion is a common tool of this process, consisting of repeated inter-
views with the same informants, with their discourses investigated
and systematized, to check the information through the analysis
results [13]. According to Flick [10], to validate information in
this manner, three considerations must be followed: (a) validate
whether the discourse is correct, comparing old and current answers,
for example; (b) whether its content is related to socially shared
information; and (c) whether the content is sincere in terms of self-
representation of the respondent. This process assists in the inspec-
tion of the research findings and in the qualitative analysis, essential
as a method of data triangulation (see forms of data validation in
Box 5). Divergences are highly context dependent and should always
be considered for questioning what factors influenced these changes
of ideas and opinions (new cultural events, pressures external to the
interview, conflicts of interest, etc.) [16].
Constantly comparing research codes to investigate their rela-
tionships is the most important approach for analyzing qualitative
research [10]. After the first interviews and the codification of all
textual information,3 the researcher starts the process of hierarchiz-
ing the collected codes, relating the discourses, practices or field
notes to create categories, information that will be associated and
investigated about a certain observed social phenomenon [13]. In
this sense, it is important to structure the codes and related textual
passages in a way that allows for a more efficient systematic com-
parison between the information presented [3]. Using tables or
flowcharts can be a good strategy, assisting in the construction of
matrices that allow to relate different categories of analysis,4 search-
ing for differences and similarities between the reports of the people
in the process of categorization [16]. Structuring information in
this manner prevents errors and duplications in the codebook and

“Tell a little about the “x” relation to your life story?” e.g., the “x” being the observed phenomenon, usually
lead to chronological narratives that reflect individual and shared experiences of people with their collective
contexts (institutional, political, etc.) and socioeconomic (childhood, professional training, marriage, paternity,
etc.) [13].
E.g., developing a book listing all the codes used in the analysis and descriptions of their meanings, helping to
identify and adjust the categorizations of the research [17].
Here we emphasize the importance of using computer software to organize this large amount of data, see Sect. 3
of this chapter.
Qualitative Data Analysis 53

allows for a general view of the interpretations of all actors involved

in the observed phenomenon [13]. Post analysis, interviews and
field observations can be thought to fill in explanatory gaps or to
make new questions that arise from the analysis of these categories,
and this process is fed back until the theoretical saturation of the
Finally, the textual review consists literally of revising the tex-
tual data for irregularities. This practice allows for a review of
informants’ expressions and updates in the codebook, as well as
revisiting the general information of the collected data, establishing
opportunities for a dense analysis of the relations from the first
research questions [13].

Box 5 Constant Validation Checking (Extracted from

Bernand [1]):
1. If you are interviewing people, look for consistencies and inconsistencies
among knowledgeable informants and find out why those informants
disagree about important things
2. Whenever possible, check people’s reports of behavior or of
environmental conditions against more objective evidence. If you
were a journalist and submitted a story based on informants’ reports
without checking the facts, you would never get it past your editor’s
desk. Why not hold anthropologists to the standard that journalists
face every day?
3. Be open to negative evidence rather than annoyed when it pops
up. When you run into a case that does not fit your theory, ask yourself
whether it is the result of: (a) normal intracultural variation, (b) your
lack of knowledge about the range of appropriate behavior, or (c) a
genuinely unusual case
4. As you come to understand how something works, seek out alternative
explanations from key informants and from colleagues, and listen to
them carefully. American folk culture, for example, holds that women
left home for the work-force because of what are widely called
“feminism” and “women’s liberation.” That is a popular emic
explanation. An alternative explanation is that feminist values and
orientations are supported, if not caused, by women being driven out
of their homes and into the workforce by the hyperinflation during
the 1970s that drove down the purchasing power of their husbands’
incomes (Margolis 1984). Both the emic, folk explanation and the etic
explanation are interesting for different reasons
5. Try to fit extreme cases into your theory, and if the cases will not fit, do
not be too quick to throw them out. It is always easier to throw out
cases than it is to reexamine your own ideas, but the easy way out is
hardly ever the right way in research
54 Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa et al.

1. Bernard HR (2006) Research methods in 9. McLellan E, MacQueen KM, Neidig JL (2003)
anthropology. Qualitative and quantitative Beyond the qualitative interview: data prepara-
approaches, 4th edn. Altamira, Oxford tion and transcription. Field Methods
2. Glaser BG, Strauss AL (1967) The discovery of 15:63–84
grounded theory: strategies for qualitative 10. Flick U (2009) An introduction to qualitative
research. Aldine Transaction, Piscataway, NJ research. Sage Publ, London
3. Charmaz K (2006) Constructing grounded 11. Chambliss DF, Schutt RK (2013) Making
theory: a practical guide through qualitative sense of the social world: methods of investiga-
analysis. Sage Publications Ltd, London tion, 4th edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks
4. Ando H, Cousins R, Young C (2014) Achiev- 12. Creswell JW (2007) Projeto de pesquisa: méto-
ing saturation in thematic analysis: develop- dos qualitativo, quantitativo e misto, 2nd edn.
ment and refinement of a codebook. Compr Artmed, Porto Alegre, RS
Psychol 3:1–7 13. Gibbs G (2008) Analyzing qualitative data.
5. Galvin R (2015) How many interviews are The SAGE Qualitative Research Kit London.
enough? Do qualitative interviews in building SAGE, London
energy consumption research produce reliable 14. Saldaña J (2009) The coding manual for quali-
knowledge? J Build Eng 1:2–12 tative researches. Sage Publications Ltd, Los
6. Hagaman AK, Wutich A (2017) How many Angeles, CA
interviews are enough to identify metathemes 15. Basit TN (2003) Manual or electronic? The
in multisited and cross-cultural research? role of coding in qualitative data analysis.
another perspective on Guest, Bunce, and Educ Res 45:143–154
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com/doi/10.1177/1525822X05279903 Bartholow K, Milstein B (2008) Team-based
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Chapter 6

Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis

of Data in Ethnobiological Research
Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos, Gyllyandeson de Araújo Delmondes,
Diógenes de Queiroz Dias, Irwin Rose Alencar de Menezes,
George Pimentel Fernandes, and Marta Regina Kerntopf

Collective subject discourse (CSD) is a systematic method of organization and tabulation of qualitative
data, anchored in the theory of social representations, combining methodological rigor and the search for
the essence of thought expressed in a given social context. Some advantages of the CSD include the
possibility of working with numerically more representative samples, as well as contemplating quantitative
aspects of the studies directed to the most diverse academic areas of knowledge. Our objective is to
highlight the principles for the operationalization of the DSC, its main characteristics and shed light on
its use in the field of research in ethnobiology.

Key words Ethnobiology, Research methods, Discourse of the collective subject

1 Discourse Analysis: Initial Concepts

What we consider today as studies of a qualitative approach, they

emerged in the nineteenth century in the social sciences. In 1932,
the book Methods of Social Investigation was published, by Sidney
and Beatrice Webb, leading names in English sociology. In this
work, the Webb couple disseminated the use of interviews, docu-
ments and personal observations as instruments to collect data on
the empirical reality of human beings [1].
However, there was no methodological clarity regarding the
treatment of data and the massive comparison with the quantitative
methods proclaimed by the natural sciences left the qualitative
studies obfuscated in the academic environment, being restricted,
almost exclusively to anthropology—due to the influences of Mal-
inowsky and Boas and their ethnographic studies. At least, this was
until the 1960s, with the emergence of journals dedicated exclu-
sively to qualitative methods, as well as the defense of the qualitative

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

56 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

approach by exponents of the studies of the natural and exact

sciences [2].
Besides ethnographic studies that are notoriously recognized as
qualitative, there are case studies (life histories) and documentary
research (reports, films, photos, drawings) that can be appropriately
considered as qualitative research. Thus, currently, the qualitative
approach is widely used and recognized in the academic environ-
ment, having gradually consolidated as a formidable way of pro-
ducing data. Regarding the treatment of these data, there are two
classic ways of conceiving analysis in qualitative research, although
they are not the only ones: content analysis and discourse
analysis [3].
Content analysis (CA) arose even before the consolidation of
qualitative studies, and therefore it is traditionally a quantitative
method, anchored in processes that guide its application in a logical
and sequential way. This type of method was originally used to
analyze journalistic material transmitted during periods of armed
conflict, pointing out variables and citation frequencies. That is, it
was applied to the written text. Currently, some authors have given
a qualitative approach to CA, recognizing the need to go beyond
the written word and adopting theoretical conceptions to better
base the analyses [4].
On the other hand, discourse analysis (DA) is based on three
main historical axes: linguistics, Marxism, and psychoanalysis with
Michel Pêcheux as the main representative of the traditional French
DA. Thus, the DA proposed a more thorough analysis, associating
internal and external elements in the production of discourses, and
for that reason, inseparable from the social reality that created it,
supported by an ideology.
According to Pêcheux [5], ideology is the representations of a
certain class. Thus, once there are several classes, a society will
express ideological differences, capable of expressing different dis-
cursive formations in a concrete way, with “what can and must be
said in a certain epoch” as the discursive formations. In this way,
“there is no discourse without subject and there is no subject
without ideology”.
Thus, anchored in the precepts of qualitative research—
although not restricted to this approach, as we shall see—and
from DA, the proposal of the Collective Subject Discourse—CSD
of Lefèvre and Lefèvre [6] arises as a method of organization and
tabulation of qualitative data, allying the search for the essence of
thought expressed in a given social context and methodological
rigor in the treatment of research data, enabling to “make the
community speak directly” ([6], p. 16).
Therefore, our objective is to highlight the principles for the
operationalization of CSD, highlighting its main characteristics and
shedding light on its use in the field of research in ethnobiology as
an important resource for data analysis.
Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data in. . . 57

2 The Method

The CSD consists in the search for the representation of collective

thought, from the construction of a discourse-synthesis originated
from the discursive contents of different individuals. Simply stated,
the CSD is the junction of individual discourses, generated through
an open question that effectively expresses the thought of a
collectivity [6].
In this sense, through this CSD proposal to tabulate qualitative
data from a verbal nature, it becomes possible for each individual
interviewed in the study to contribute to the construction of col-
lective thinking. This methodological procedure is supported by
the empirical perspective that the collective character of social
thought can be measured by the number of choices of a particular
group of people belonging to a given community, so it can be
considered socially shared, although expressed individually [7].
According to Lefèvre and Lefèvre [6], the CSD is based on the
hypothesis that when individuals in society, they share beliefs,
values, and social representations. Consequently, a methodological
process was developed capable of managing an organization of the
verbal expressions generated by the social research that use open
instruments for the data collection.
This methodological process is systematically oriented through
specific elements for its development, called operators, being the
Central Idea, the Anchorages, the Key Expressions and the CSD as
the final product of this process [6].
According to Lefèvre and Lefèvre [6], key expressions (KE) are
literal transcriptions of the discourse that reveal the essence of the
statements, leading to their signification, properly speaking, evi-
dencing the central idea that permeates a certain thought. For this
reason, the authors also point out that there is no way to dissociate
the KE from the central ideas (CI), and these operators are indis-
pensable for the formation of the CSD.
In the case of central ideas, they are defined as a description of
the meaning of the statements. According to the authors: “The
central idea has. . .the important function of individualizing a given
discourse or set of discourses, positively describing its semantic
specificities” ([6], p. 25). It is further emphasized that an individual
may present in his speech, for the same issue, more than one CI.
In turn, anchorages (AC) are explicit manifestations of a belief
that the author of the discourse professes and that is used to frame a
specific situation. They can be generalist comments, guided by
common sense, markedly notorious in speeches and usually easy
to identify. It should be emphasized that ACs, contrary to what
happens with KE and CI, are not mandatory to compose the CSD.
Therefore, identifying the methodological figures cited above
(KE, CI, and AC), they will be the CSD, considered as the main
58 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

methodological figure expressed from the method. According to

Lefèvre and Lefèvre ([6], p.18): “The the collective subject dis-
course is a discourse-synthesis. . .composed of KEs that have the
same CI or AC.” [6]. As exemplified in the schemes below:
Representation A : CSD1 ¼ KEðn2Þ þ KEðn5Þ þ KEðn8Þ þ KEðnx Þ
Representation B : CSD 2 ¼ KEðn3Þ þ KEðn7Þ þ KEðn9Þ þ KEðnx Þ
Source: Schemes proposed by the authors.
CSD ¼ Collective subject discourse
KE ¼ Key expression
CI ¼ Central idea
AC ¼ Anchorage
n ¼ Participant in the survey
Another feature of the CSD is the fact that it is evidenced in the
discursive mode. These authors argue that representation by charts,
tables, and categories is characterized as farther from reality as
concrete individuals think, and therefore the use of discourse is
more appropriate as a more vivid and real form of representation
of collective thought, providing a clearer picture of the thought of a
collectivity [6].
Nevertheless, it is emphasized that the representation of adju-
vant data—such as number of informants, gender, profession—as
well as the prevalent CI present multivariate forms of presentation
and can be expressed either using simple descriptive writing, as an
auxiliary resource for organization and general visualization of
the data.
In this context, it is highlighted that to reach the desired
collective thought, a representative sample of a population consid-
ered for the study is necessary. Only in this way, it will be possible to
have the representation of internalized ideas in the set of opinionat-
ing individuals, that is, the collective subject [8].
However, to trigger collective thinking, the use of an essential
object is required: the open question. The open question will be
responsible for producing the thought, and it is still considered as
the research procedure that stimulates the expression of the
thoughts of individuals in a more intensely discourse [9]. It is
important to emphasize the guiding question in the presentation
of the results. The following is an example of organization and
presentation of data that can be used in ethnobiological studies
(Box 1).
Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data in. . . 59

Box 1 Relationship between central ideas of question X, the

proportion of responses according to the participants of the
research and CSD for question X:

Question X: What is your opinion about [. . .]?

Central ideas Community informants
N %
Total of informants ¼ a
Collective subject discourse
CSD—Central idea A: [. . .]
CSD—Central idea B: [. . .]
CSD—Central idea C: [. . .]
Source: Data organization proposed by the authors
A discourse may present more than one central idea

Consequently, each CSD is made up in the first person singular,

so the thought of a group or collectivity will be expressed as an
individual discourse. This is the qualitative variable of the CSD.
However, after the construction of the speech-synthesis, it becomes
possible to identify the quantitative variable for each CSD. This
variable has two attributes: intensity and amplitude [8].
Thus, Lefèvre and Lefèvre [8] characterize intensity as the
number or percentage of individuals who contributed with KE
and CI that sketched similarities or complement each other at a
given time for the preparation of the different synthesis speeches.
Regarding to amplitude, it can be understood as the measure of the
presence of the CSD considering the field or universe.
Therefore, the CSD is appropriately a qualitative and quantita-
tive technique, since the search for the rescue of social representa-
tions is qualitative in the sense of its object of investigation, that is,
the search for collective thought, which cannot immediately be
identified by purely quantifiable resources [8].
However, after the identification of the central ideas, key
expressions, anchorages and confection of the CSD, a quantitative
treatment can be applied, since the quantitative dimension of opin-
ion is based on an inseparable integration with the qualitative
dimension, considering that they concern the quantity of indivi-
duals or responses that contributed to the making of each
discourse-synthesis [6].
60 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

Therefore, contrary to what some researchers claim, quantity

and quality are complementary and not mutually exclusive con-
cepts. In the CSD technique, for example, there is an inherent
merger between quality and quantity, as the authors argue [6].
Thus, the CSD emerges as a proposal that inserts a significant
change in the field of qualitative research, which through this
methodological procedure assume the status of qualitative research
or mixed approach, since it is possible to know and measure the
representations of collective discourses about the most diverse
topics that interact at the core of their social reality with methodo-
logical rigor [10].
Thus, for the correct application of the CSD technique, it is
necessary to recover the meaning of the collective opinions of a
given group, at the heart of these collective opinions will be origi-
nated numerous CSD, being a complex process, that must be
subdivided into several moments [9], respecting a hierarchical
order of well-established steps, performed through operations
that will be performed on the collected material.

3 Software for the Construction of the CSD: Qualiqunatisoft and CSDsoft

Subsequently, the data collected should be appropriately tran-

scribed for analysis. At this point, the researcher can choose to
perform the technique manually or use the Qualiquantisoft as an
aid to analysis. The use of the software is encouraged, considering
the particular aspects of the organization of the records and valua-
tion of the mixed approach.
Thus, it is emphasized that the purpose of this program is to
enable a remarkable optimization of the technical work for the
analysis of the research data. Also, the software allows to effectively
relating the qualitative and quantitative aspects of studies using the
CSD for data analysis [11].
The software is composed of registers (allowing the archiving of
data and databases related to interviewees, surveys, and questions,
among others); analyses (they are tables and processes that enable
the accomplishment of the pertinent stages to the construction of
the Collective Subject Discourses); tools (responsible for the export
and import of data, as well as the results of research) and reports
(performing the organization and allowing the printing of the
results of the research) [11].
However, it is noted in particular by the Collective Subject
Discourse Research Institute (CSDRI), that QualiQuantiSoft can
be correctly classified as a facilitator and not substitute, in any
instance, for the work that must be performed by the researcher.
In fact, this software is a relevant aid for the researcher.
Thus, Qualiquantisoft allows producing CSD adopting more
reliable, systematic, explicit and standardized procedures, building
Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data in. . . 61

the social speech through the speech of individuals, aimed by the

researcher. This process carried out with the use of the software
represents a greater effectiveness of the investigative activity,
besides the saving of time for the researcher.
Moreover, the use of Qualiquantisoft enables to carry out the
research work with relatively numerous samples—when consider-
ing the reality of qualitative research—besides important data reg-
isters and the application of filters according to the different
variables considered.
It should be noted that other research software is currently
available with the CSD, DSCsoft, considered the new software of
the Collective Subject Discourse. It should be noted that DSCsoft
has been idealized by the same creators of Qualiquantisoft and the
trend is to replace it gradually, as it is presented as improved
software compared to its predecessor and with new features and
breadth of analysis of the samples.
Therefore, besides the tools of Qualiquantisoft of the opera-
tional and visual advances, it is useful to point out that DSCsoft
presents a greater capacity for the registration of the speeches,
allowing the analysis with numerically more representative samples.
It also allows for a more effective association of the qualitative and
quantitative aspects of the studies, producing the intersection of
subjective and objective variables, such as “beliefs” and “age”, for
example [12].
Nevertheless, although the transition from Qualiquantisoft to
DSCsoft is a natural and expected trend, Qualiquantisoft is still
widely used by several higher education institutions with the
license, being adopted as a standard program in public and private
institutions that use the CSD, which justifies its relevance in the
application of the method.

4 The CSD and the Research with Ethnobiological Approaches

As discussed previously, the thought is collected from the use of

open questions, which allows the internalized thought to be
expressed through a discursive behavior, enabling to externalize a
social fact of interest to the researcher.
Thus, the CSD enables to employ a data analysis capable of
allying the voices of the individuals who participated in the research
in different representative discourses, not excluding their subjectiv-
ity, characteristic of qualitative research, while making feasible a
reliable and quantitative evaluation of the ideas, based on a specific
method, clear and reproducible.
Therefore, considering all the reasons presented, starting from
the genesis of discourse analysis, firmly as a method, the theoretical
basis of the CSD, as well as the applicability of the technique, it is
62 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

reinforced that the CSD is appropriate for data analysis in ethnobi-

ological research. Let us see a few examples in this sense.
In a study conducted in the municipality of Igarassu, in the
Atlantic Forest, state of Pernambuco, Brazil, Silva et al. [13] sought
to identify the perceptions of the local landscape by the vision of
students from the fifth to the eighth grade. The collective subject
discourse was used as one of the methodological approaches for the
analysis of the data, probably being the pioneer publication in the
use of CSD in the field of research in ethnobiology.
Thus, in this study, 12 central ideas were identified, together
with the corresponding key expressions, presented in tables, and it
is possible to draw a panorama of children’s collective thinking
about the local landscape. Some important CI were: I love the
forest; We are happy because we have forests, they have many
types of life; We are killing the forests, we have to preserve; People
are destroying the forests and that is bad. We have to have preser-
vation. These CI were expressed by fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth-
grade students, respectively [13].
Sensitive key expressions indicated by the authors are also high-
lighted, such as: “We are destroying the green of our forest. . .trees
cut down and animals hunted. . .deforestation is a crime against
nature. We, humans, have to cut down trees and then plant others”
([13], p. 204) and, “I think of the riches that the forest gives us. I
am afraid that the day will come when we will not see these land-
scapes anymore. . .People should take care of the forest” ([13],
p. 205). Something that became evident through the CSD was
the conservationist view in all the grades considered in the research.
In the dissertation of Lemos [14], the technique was also used.
The objective of the study was to learn about traditional knowledge
about the use of natural resources to treat acute respiratory infec-
tions, diarrhea, and anemia in children living in a traditional com-
munity located in the northeast of Brazil. The qualitative focus of
the study was achieved through the search for an understanding of
the meaning attributed to the use of these traditional resources by
mothers or caregivers of children, as well as the reflection of this
practice for conventional medicine.
In the data analysis with the CSD, there were 46 central ideas
identified for five questions, which revealed an appreciation of the
use of natural resources to treat common childhood diseases. A
relevant aspect to be highlighted was the organization of the data
prioritizing the mixed approach allowed by the CSD, exposing
qualitative and quantitative aspects of the discourses. The data
were organized into tables and charts [14].
One of the questions asked was: Have you ever talk to a health
professional about how you use plants or parts of animals to treat
your child’s illness? Tell me how it was. Only for this question,
there were nine CI, such as: Yes, but I was shy and I did not talk any
more; No, because I was afraid and/or ashamed; I tried, but they
Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data in. . . 63

did not pay attention; No, because they do not ask, they do not
show interest and No, because they do not believe in the effective-
ness of this type of treatment [14].
Thus, according to the author, the results from the CSD analy-
sis showed that considering cultural aspects in the child health care
approach is relevant, since they are resources widely used by families
and regarded as effective therapeutic options for a range symptoms
and health situations in the context of diseases prevalent in
childhood [14].
In the article by Sousa et al. [15], conducted in a quilombola
community in northeastern Brazil, the CSD was also the method of
choice for organization and data analysis, the objective of the
research was to investigate the forms of use and storage of plants
found in the community. Differently from the previous examples
mentioned, the data for this study were listed emphasizing only the
CSD as the main operators of the method and focusing exclusively
on the qualitative analysis of the discourses.
Some particularly interesting passages from the study by Sousa
et al. [15] and that can be punctuated in the speeches represented
are: “I learned from the older ones here [. . .] My grandmother was
a blesser; blessed people here and in Coqueiro. My aunt prayed here
and my mother is [. . .] a healer for the children here”—about who
from whom he learned to use plants ([15], p. 233); “I plant it here
in the yard. I plant it and take care of it so it does not die with the
drought. When there is no one around the house, I look for it at my
mother’s house or the neighbor’s house”—about how she gets the
plants mentioned ([15], p. 234) and “It does good and it does not
do any harm. Medicine from a plant is better than medicine from a
drugstore. It makes us better. So, it does good and not harm. It
does not harm at all”—about adverse effects and contraindications
related to plant use ([15], p. 235).
In Alves research [16], the author sought to analyze the rela-
tionship between the use of plants, their meanings, and conven-
tional and traditional treatment for diagnosed people with systemic
arterial hypertension (SAH) in a quilombola community in north-
eastern Brazil. In this study, it was possible to evidence a number of
CI, from the application of the CSD technique with six subjective
Therefore, in the study of Alves [16], some peculiar points were
the accomplishment of the analysis in agreement with the theory of
social representations—what allows for a more critical and ample
vision of the processes investigated—the identification of
anchorages to back up and validate a widespread thought in the
community and the interdisciplinary approach that permeated the
whole study, bringing together relevant discussions at the heart of
the biological sciences and health sciences. The data were presented
through written representation of the speeches and organized in
tables, prioritizing the qualitative approach of the method.
64 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

In this sense, according to the author and through the

speeches, it was possible to understand the meaning given to
hypertension and its direct relationship with culture and psychoso-
cial aspects, factors that will directly reflect the forms of treatment
and the therapeutic scheme adopted by different populations. In
the case investigated, this was evident through the use of plants
over conventional treatment, as reported by some residents [16].
It is worth mentioning the research by Brasil et al. [17] who
sought to evaluate the preference between drugs or plants for pain
management in a quilombola community. In this aspect, the study
adopted the CSD as a method of analyzing the verbal expressions of
the participants, combining qualitative and quantitative variables,
with an expressive sample—in the context of qualitative methods
for analysis—of fifty-two residents.
Thus, the research of Brasil et al. [17] concluded that most
study participants used teas for pain management, and although
some of them used conventional medications, they attributed to
plants a greater efficacy in pain management. One notable aspect of
the research was the use of classical representation in data expres-
sion, with all CI listed for each question and all CSD expressed for a
more reliable view of the thoughts represented by the community.
It should be noted that there were 26 CI distributed in four
subjective questions. For example, for the question about the
opinion of the residents regarding the home preparation with
plants for the treatment of pain, the prevalent CIs were: “It is
good because it’s effective,” expressed by 61.54% and “It’s good,
but it depends on the type of pain,” indicated by 21.15% of the
participants [17].
For the question about the residents’ view regarding conven-
tional drugs, the most significant CI was: It is effective, but tea is
better, for 38.46% of the sample. Regarding the use in association
of plants and drugs, 88.46% reported that they do not use it
because it can cause poisoning. Concerning the substitution of
drugs by plants, 51.92% expressed they do not substitute them,
but they could not identify the reasons for this [17].
It is worth mentioning some important discourses in the
research of Brasil et al. [17], such as: “[. . .] the medicine from the
pharmacy did not work, with faith in God I became good with
medicine from the plants. I already had the acetaminophen once
and it did not work [. . .] I took the tea and solved it.” ([17],
p. 777); “No!” “God!” You cannot take both because you can
poison. Everyone here knows that you cannot take the two
together: the plant and the drug; it is too risky” ([17], p. 776)
and “I do not change my tea, I drink tea first. I see the people going
to the health centers, to the hospital, I’m not going. I think it is a
waste of time because I have everything here [. . .]” ([17], p. 775).
However, some aspects should be discussed on the use of CSD
in ethnobiological research, aiming at an improvement in the use of
Discourse of the Collective Subject as a Method for Analysis of Data in. . . 65

the technique, enabling better analysis and, consequently, a higher

quality of published research. Thus, at least two aspects are note-
worthy: the presentation of the data and the case of the theory of
social representations.
One of the great advantages of the CSD is to enable the
representation of subjective data in a precise way, drawing a general
picture of the expressed thoughts of a given population. When we
do not show some of the basic operators of the method in present-
ing our results, such as KE and CI, we can distort or blur the
general understanding of the results achieved, with a meticulous
organization of the basic operators, which in simple textual writing,
or using tables and charts.
In part, this problem is due to the internalization of the most
common forms of analysis of qualitative data, as well as their pre-
sentation. However, this fact may jeopardize the understanding of
the results, as well as not to showing specific characteristics of the
method, which would be regrettable. This problem is also related
to the lack of control over the operation of the CSD.
Another fact that contributes to an inefficient organization and
presentation of the data is the nonuse of the specific software for the
CSD. Although this is not a requirement, it is highly advisable to
use Qualiquantisoft and, more recently, CSDsoft as auxiliary tools
in the CSD analysis process, allowing a better organization and
tabulation of results, combining objective and subjective aspects.
Another aspect that needs to be improved in the publications
that use the CSD is the consideration of the theoretical basis of the
method, anchored in the Theory of Social Representations
[18]. When it is left out of the context of the analyses, these become
superficial and not elucidating, providing only a pragmatic view
descriptive of the findings. Thus, the CSD cannot be dissociated
from the theoretical considerations that permeate the method.
Otherwise, we would be analyzing only content in a classical per-
spective, and not speeches.

5 Final Considerations

Thus, the studies cited during the chapter are only a few practical
examples of how CSD can be effectively applied in the context of
ethnobiological research, regardless of the ethnobiological aspect
considered. Therefore, the CSD goes beyond the simple mechani-
cal representation of discourses or written representation of verbal
expressions allocated in a given category in an impersonal and
random manner, as observed in other methods widely used in the
context of qualitative research.
As a method of organizing, tabulating, and analyzing data
based on the theory of social representations, the CSD is particu-
larly interesting because it allows to ally different representative
66 Izabel Cristina Santiago Lemos et al.

voices of a given collective thought in clear sentences and conso-

nants, drawing a vivid, real and tangible panorama of the discourses
of different individuals, assisting in the more thorough analysis of
the results obtained in the field.
Its systematic operationalization—besides the aid of software
developed specifically for analysis by the CSD—assists in the con-
struction of well-delineated and precise sentences, however, with-
out losing the inherent subjectivity of thought and enabling
through the expressed discourses, to scan the core of the represen-
tations imbued in each sentence, which lies at the heart of DA.
Another advantageous aspect is that the CSD is applicable to
samples of wide amplitude and this is due to the methodological
process adopted for it, allowing even the subsequent intersection of
objective and subjective variables. Consequently, according to the
authors of the method, the CSD not only allows this type of
qualitative and quantitative association but it also evidences the
need for a mixed treatment of the data [7].
Thus, with all the characteristics highlighted for the CSD and
its uniqueness in the analysis of the data of the qualitative studies, it
is reinforced that its use in ethnobiological research has the poten-
tial to enrich the subjective analyses of thoughts, beliefs, and
Therefore, when we go to the field to carry out our surveys, our
notes, and records, there is always a presence that goes through
these objective data, before the research, during the study or after
initial impressions and impact assessments. That presence is the
human presence, rich in subjective accounts, experiences, and
These qualitative aspects, which are historically confused with
the very emergence of ethnographic studies with Boas and, most
notably, Malinowski, may be explicit or implicit, and disregarding
them does not bring us closer to a more robust and scientific
analysis, but distances us from a one of the central aspects of our
ethnobiological studies and that rests in the cradle of Anthropol-
ogy: human relationships and representations.

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estudo da Medicina Tradicional. Dissertação
Part II

Methods and Quantitative Techniques

Chapter 7

Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making

Scientifically Sound Questions
Thiago Gonçalves-Souza, Diogo B. Provete, Michel V. Garey,
Fernando R. da Silva, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

Inspired by the famous quote of Leonardo da Vinci, this chapter builds upon the idea that practice without
theory is blind and unpredictable. Indeed, theory without practice can be idle. Accordingly, progress in
science is made through approaches that integrate hypothesis testing and falsifiability or that investigate
weight of evidence for multiple hypothesis, such as the hypothetico-deductive method (HDM) and
Bayesian techniques. Here, we provided a straightforward way to combine the HDM with statistical
thinking to create a diagram that links variables by causal links, which can improve the scientific method
and statistical literacy.

Key words Hypothetico-deductive method, Scientific flowchart, Prediction, P value

1 Introduction

He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a
rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.—Leonardo da Vinci

Tell me what your question is. Perhaps this is the phrase that most
young researchers listen to when they begin their scientific activ-
ities. Apparently simple, answering this question becomes one of
the biggest challenges in scientific training. Whether in qualitative
or quantitative research, the entire knowledge-seeking process
starts from a question/problem formulated by the researcher at
the beginning of the process. This question will guide the
researcher in all stages of the research. In the specific case of
quantitative research, the question will begin one of the most
powerful ways of thinking scientifically: the hypothetico-deductive
method (HDM) championed by Karl Popper [1].
This chapter proposes a way of thinking about scientific
hypotheses (generated within the HDM) to improve statistical

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

72 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

thinking by using a flowchart that relate variables by causal links. In

addition, we argue that you can easily use flowcharts to (1) tease
apart relevant variables and how they affect each other; (2) improve
(when necessary) experimental/observational design; (3) facilitate
the selection of statistical analyses; and (4) boost data interpretation
and communication.

2 Questions Must Precede Statistical Analyses

2.1 A Bestiary of Most students and professors in the biological sciences have an
Hypothesis Testing aversion to the word “statistics”. Not surprisingly, whereas most
(Are You Asking the academic disciplines in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering,
Right Question?) and Mathematics) have a strong statistical background in their
undergraduate level, courses in the biological sciences have poor
curricula in how to integrate statistical thinking within a biological
context [2]. These courses have been frequently taught without any
practical baseline to integrate students in a problem-solving plat-
form [3]. Unfortunately, ethnobiology, ecology, and conservation
(hereafter EEC) are not exceptions.
More importantly, a major concern during the statistical train-
ing of EEC students is the need of working with complex, multidi-
mensional problems, which demand analytical solutions even more
complicated to a public without a background in statistics and
mathematics. Hence, some researchers consider statistics as the
most problematic part of their scientific research. We argue that
the difficulty of using statistics in EEC is associated with the
absence of a problem-solving platform stating clear hypotheses
derived from a theory. However, we agree that there is a great
challenge in ethnobiology to integrate this hypothesis-driven
approach, because it was introduced only recently (see [4–6]).
In view of the lack of a problem-solving platform, we frequently
notice that students/researchers in EEC usually have a hard time
answering basic questions for a scientific research, such as:
1. What is the main theory or logical reasoning of your study?
2. What is the main question of your study?
3. What is your hypothesis? What are your predictions?
4. What is the sampling unit, independent and dependent vari-
ables of your work? Is there any covariate?
5. What is the control group?
How can one select any statistical test without answering those
five questions? The frequentist statistical framework provides a way
to go by progressively supporting or falsifying a hypothesis
[1, 7]. The decision to reject a null hypothesis is made using a
probability value (usually P < 0.05) calculated by comparing
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 73

observed events with repeated observations that generate a null

Now, let us teach by example and introduce a “guide to statis-
tical thinking,” which connects some essential elements needed
before running any multivariate (or univariate) analysis (Fig. 1,
see also Fig. 1.3 in [8], and Fig. 1 in [9]). First, imagine you
observed the following phenomena in nature: (1) “local people
selecting some plants for medical purposes,” and (2) “monodomi-
nant patches of the tree Prosopis juliflora, an invasive species in
several regions.” On the ethnobiology side, to understand how
and why traditional knowledge is constructed, there is a theory or
hypothesis (e.g., apparency hypothesis: Gonçalves et al. [10])
explaining the main processes dictating plant selection (Fig. 1a).
Then, you can ask one or more questions related to those observed
phenomena (Fig. 1b). For example, how does urbanization affect
people knowledge about medicinal plant use in different biomes?
On the ecological/conservation side, to understand why intro-
duced species affect local native species, you need to understand
the ecological niche and evolutionary theories [11, 12]. You can
ask, for instance, how does exotic plants affect native plant commu-
nity structure?
Complex or vague questions difficult the construction of the
research flowchart (see description below) and the selection of
statistical tests. Instead, a useful question should indicate the rele-
vant variables of your study, such as independent and dependent
variables, covariate, sampling unit, and the spatial scale of interest
(Fig. 1b). In the provided ethnobiological example, urbanization
and people knowledge are the independent and dependent vari-
ables, respectively. Also, this study has a broad scale, as it compares
different biomes. The next step is constructing the biological
hypothesis (Fig. 1c), which will dictate the association between
independent and dependent variables. In the ethnobiological
example, the hypothesis is that (1) “urbanization affects people
knowledge about medicinal plant use,” while the ecological
hypothesis is that (2) “exotic species affect native community struc-
ture.” Note this is very similar to the main question. But you can
have multiple hypotheses [13] derived from one theory.
After stating the biological (or scientific) hypothesis, it is time
to think about the corollary (logic derivation) of the hypothesis,
which is called prediction (Fig. 1d). The predicted patterns are a
very important step, because after defining it you can operationalize
your variables and visualize your data. For example, the theoretical
variable “Urbanization” can be measured as “urbanization grade
along urban, peri-urban, and rural areas,” and “people knowledge”
as “the number and type of useful plant species used for different
diseases.” Thus, the prediction is that urbanization grade decreases
the number and type of known plant species utilized for medicinal
purposes.” In the ecological example, “Exotic species” can be
74 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Fig. 1 A guide to statistical thinking combining the hypothetico-deductive method (a–d, i) and
frequentist statistics (e–i). See also Fig. 1 in Underwood [9], Fig. 1 in Ford [15], and Fig. 1.3 in Legendre
and Legendre [8]
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 75

measured as “the density of the exotic plant Prosopis juliflora” and

“Community structure” as “native species richness and composi-
tion”. After you have operationalized your work in the light of the
hypothetico-deductive method (HDM), the next step is “thinking
statistically” about the formulated biological hypothesis (see
Figs. 1e, f).
Then, you need to define the null (H0) and the alternative (H1)
statistical hypotheses. Two different “statistical hypotheses” can be
derived from a biological hypothesis (Fig. 1e). Therefore, we are
using the term “statistical hypothesis” in quotation marks, because
the so-called statistical hypotheses are predictions sensu stricto, and
often confound young students. The null statistical hypothesis
represents an absence of relationship between the independent
and dependent variables. After defining the null statistical hypothe-
sis, you can derive one or multiple alternative statistical hypotheses,
which demonstrate the expected association(s) between your vari-
ables (Fig. 1e). In our example, the null hypothesis is that “urbani-
zation grade does not affect the number of useful plant species
known for local people.” In turn, the alternative hypothesis is that
“urbanization grade does affect the number of useful plant species
known for local people.”
After you operationalized your variables and defined the null
and alternative hypotheses, it is time to plot the expected result
(Fig. 2, Box 1) and choose an adequate statistical method. For
example, if you want to compare the difference in the composition
of useful plants between urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, you can
run a PERMANOVA (Chap. 8, in this book) that uses the pseudo-F
test statistics. Then, you have to choose the probability threshold
(the P value) of the statistical test to decide whether the null
hypothesis should or should not be rejected [14]. If you find a
P < 0.05, you should reject the null statistical hypothesis (urbani-
zation does not affect the number and composition of plants).
Conversely, a P > 0.05 indicates that you cannot reject the null
statistical hypothesis. Thus, the test statistics and the P value repre-
sents the last part of the statistical hypothesis testing, which is the
decision and appropriate conclusions that will be used to feedback
to the main theory (Figs. 1g–i). By generalizing your results and
falsifying (or not) your hypotheses, the study is seeking to refine the
conceptual construction of the theory, which is constantly changed
(Fig. 1i, [15]). However, there is a critical point in this last state-
ment, because statistical significance does not necessarily mean
biological relevance (see discussion in Gotelli and Ellison [14],
Martı́nez-Abraı́n [16]). In the words of Ford [15]: “statistics is
used to illuminate the problem, and not to support a position.”
Also, the hypothesis-testing procedure has some uncertainty, which
can influence “false-positive” (type 1 error) and “false-negative”
(type 2 error) results [17].
76 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Box 1 Type of Variables and Data Visualization:

As described in Sect. 3, the flowchart is essential for connecting
relevant variables for the research. To take advantage of this
approach, you can draw your own graphical predictions to help
you think about different analytical possibilities. Here, we pro-
vide a full description of types of variables that you must know
before running any statistical analysis and plotting results. Also,
we show a brief gallery (Fig. 2) with examples of good practices in
data visualization (Fig. 3b, see also Fig. 8.1 in Chap. 8 in this
book). Besides connecting different variables in the flowchart,
you should distinguish the type of variable. First, you must
identify the independent (also known as explanatory or predic-
tor) and dependent (also known as response) variables. The
independent variable is the one (or more) that predicts or affects
the response variable (e.g., soil fertility is the independent vari-
able that affects the abundance of a focal plant species, the depen-
dent variable). Additionally, a covariate is a continuous variable
that can affect the response or the independent variables, or both,
but usually is not of interest of the researcher. After defining those
variables and connecting them in the flowchart, it is time to
differentiate their type: (1) quantitative or continuous, and
(2) categorical or qualitative (Fig. 2a, Box 1). The type of variable
will define what kind of plot you may select. For example, if you
are comparing two continuous variables or one continuous and a
binary variable, the best way to visualize them (Fig. 2b) is a
scatterplot (Fig. 2c, d). The line represents the values predicted
by the statistical model used (e.g., linear, logistic). If you are
interested in comparing the range of different traits (or the
description of any numerical variable) between categorical vari-
ables (e.g., species or local populations), a dumbbell plot is good
option (Fig. 2e). Histograms can be also used to show the distri-
bution of two continuous variables of two groups or factors
(Fig. 2f). However, if you want to test the effect of an indepen-
dent categorical variables (like an ANOVA’s design) on a numeri-
cal variable, boxplots (Fig. 2g) or violin plots can summarize
them elegantly. Multivariate datasets, in turn, can be visualized
with ordination (Fig. 2h) or cluster plots (not shown). There is a
comprehensive website presenting several ways for visualizing
data called

For the sake of simplicity, we will not further discuss the pros
and cons of frequentist statistics, alternative methods (e.g., Bayes-
ian and Maximum Likelihood), and philosophical issues regarding
the “p value” (for a discussion on these topics see the forum in
Ellison et al. [18]).
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 77

Fig. 2 Type of variables (a) and data visualization (b) to represent the expected relationship between
dependent and independent variables, or covariates

3 Flowchart: Connecting Variables to Improve Experimental Design and Statistical


McIntosh and Pontius [19] stated that statistical thinking (repre-

sented in Fig. 1) includes four important steps: (1) what questions
you would investigate (Sect. 4), (2) how and where to collect the
data [20], (3) what factors should be considered and how they
affect your variables of interest (and how they affect each other),
and (4) what statistical analysis you should use and how to interpret
and communicate results (Section 4). However, step (3) must be
done before collecting the data. For example, if you are interested
in investigating the benefits of riparian forests to native fish species,
what variables should be included in the study? If you choose rivers
with and without riparian forest as the single predictor variable,
your sampling design will omit other confounding variables, such as
river order and upstream soil organic carbon. Vellend [21] named
this issue the “three-box problem” (see also [20]), which is the
problem in inferring that X (independent variable) causes Y (depen-
dent variable) when other variables create or magnify the
78 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Fig. 3 Example of how to use a flowchart to improve the understanding of the studied system. The theoretical
question “What is the impact of invasion on native community and ecosystem properties? can generate two
predictions: (1) the exotic plant Prosopis juliflora reduces beta diversity of native plant communities, and
(2) Prosopis juliflora modifies plant composition, and reduces carbon stock and decomposition rates. After
stating your predictions, you can construct a flowchart connecting the relevant variables and the expected
associations between them (a). Also, you can use the information in Box 1 to identify which type of variable
you will collect and what plot(s) can be used (b)

correlation between X and Y (see Fig. 2 in [20]). A useful tool for

understanding the relationship among every relevant variable for
your study is a flowchart.
In the “research flowchart” (see also [22]) proposed here,
dependent (also known as response) and independent
(or predictor) variables, as well as covariates are depicted as boxes
(with distinct shapes: Fig. 3). In addition, you can use an arrow to
represent a (possible) causal pathway indicating strength and sign
(positive or negative) of the predictor variable on the dependent
variable (Fig. 3). By doing so, you could improve the experimental
or observational sampling design including or controlling for con-
founding variables, which help you tease apart the contribution of
different predictor variables in your system. Importantly, making
connections among variables improve your ability to visualize the
“big picture” of your research, which in turn affect your experi-
ment, statistical analysis, and literature review. In fact, Arlidge et al.
[23] argued that flowcharts facilitate the construction of scientific
narratives by improving: (1) the definition of multiple working
hypotheses, (2) gathering, interpreting, and spreading data, and
(3) the communication of the study content. You can also refer to
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 79

Magnusson et al. [22] for how to use flowcharts in statistical

Furthermore, Ford [15] recommended the use of an analytical
framework to foster research development. More importantly, the
research flowchart can be used as a strong tool to accomplish Ford’s
advices, which were: (1) define the asked question, (2) define the
theory to be used, (3) define the technique of investigation (e.g.,
experiment, field observation), (4) define the measurements,
(5) define how to make inference, and (6) interpret, generalize,
and synthesize from data, which feedback to refine theory and
modify (when necessary) future questions (Fig. 1).

4 Fundamental Questions in Ethnobiology, Ecology, and Conservation

Theories are generalizations. Theories contain questions. For some theories the
question(s) are explicit and represent what the theory is designed to explain. For
others the questions are implicit and relate to the amount and type of generali-
zation, given the particular choice of methods and examples used by researchers
in constructing the theory. Theories continually change, as exceptions are found
to their generalizations and as implicit questions about method and study
options are exposed.—E. David Ford [15]

As we argued before, a relevant, testable question precedes statisti-

cal analysis. Thus, we present below 12 questions that can stimulate
future research in EEC. Note, however, that we do not mean they
are the only relevant questions to be tested in EEC (see, e.g.,
Sutherland et al. [24] for a full evaluation of cutting edge research
avenues in Ecology; and Box 6.1 in Pickett et al. [25]). Specifically,
these questions are very broad and can be further developed into
narrower questions, hypotheses, and predictions. After each theo-
retical question, we presented an example of a study testing it and
the relevant variables that can stimulate future studies.
(a) How does land use affect biodiversity maintenance and spatial
distribution of species at different spatial scales?
Example: Several studies on different ecosystems and scales
investigated how land use affects biodiversity. However, we
highlight a study comparing global effects of land use (e.g.,
human population density, landscape to human uses, time
since forest conversion) on terrestrial species (e.g., net change
in local richness, average compositional dissimilarity) [26].
(b) What is the impact of biotic invasion on native communities
and ecosystem properties?
Example: Investigating how the establishment of exotic spe-
cies affects species richness of the recipient, native commu-
nities, as well as how it impacts the delivery of ecosystem
services. Previous studies have controlled the presence of inva-
sive species or compared historical records (observational
80 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

study) of these species and how they impact biodiversity. In

addition, there is some effort in understanding the predictors
of invasibility (e.g., gross domestic product of regions, human
population density, coastal mainland and islands) [27].
(c) How does top predator decline affect the delivery of ecosys-
tem services?
Example: Investigating how the removal of large carnivores
affects the delivery of ecosystem services, such as carbon
sequestration, disease, and crop damage control. Previous
studies have investigated this question by controlling the pres-
ence of top predators or comparing historical records (obser-
vational study) of species and several predictors (e.g., habitat
loss and fragmentation, conflict with humans—hunting, utili-
zation for traditional medicine, and depletion of prey) [28].
(d) How does ocean acidification affect primary productivity and
food webs in marine ecosystems?
Example: Recent studies tested the individual and interactive
effects of ocean acidification and warming on trophic linkages
across a food web. Acidification and warming have been
manipulated by changing levels of CO2 and temperature,
respectively. Previous studies demonstrated that elevated
CO2 and temperature boosted primary productivity and
affected the strength of top down control [29].
(e) How do we reconcile societal needs for natural resources with
nature conservation?
Example: There is a growing literature using landscape
approaches to improve land management to reconcile conser-
vation and economic development. The studies have mixed
objectives, but in general they used stakeholder engagement,
institutional support, effective structures of governance as
predictor variables, and environmental (e.g., soil and water
conservation, vegetation cover) and social-economic (income,
social capital, public health, employment) improvements as
dependent variables [30].
(f) What is the role of protected areas (PAs) for the maintenance
of biodiversity and ecosystem services?
Example: There has been considerable work in the last decade
comparing the effectiveness of PAs for biodiversity conserva-
tion. Although this question is not completely separated from
question E, the design of studies is relatively distinct. In
general, researchers contrast the number of species and the
delivery of ecosystem services (e.g., water and soil retention,
carbon sequestration) between protected and unprotected
areas [31].
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 81

(g) How to integrate scientific and local people knowledge to

mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and land use
on biodiversity?
Example: Extreme climatic events can have strong impact on
agricultural yield and food production. Recent authors have
argued that this effect can be stronger for small farmers.
Future studies can investigate how rainfall and temperature
affect agricultural yield and how traditional farmers or indige-
nous people deal with this negative impact. Traditional farm-
ing systems have lower soil erosion, and N2O/CO2 emissions
than monocultures, and thus can be seen as a viable mitigating
activity in a changing world [32, 33].
(h) How does climate change affect the resilience and adaptive
strategies in social-ecological systems?
Example: The changing climate alters both fisheries and agri-
culture worldwide, which in turn enforces humans to change
how they grow crops. Recent studies have argued that agricul-
ture in some countries will face risks under climate change.
These studies compare different production systems, from
conventional agriculture to other types made by local people.
For example, there is a strong connection between
(1) threatened and overfished species, (2) human develop-
ment index (HDI) and average dependence on fisheries and
aquaculture. Also, there is evidence that biodiversity may
buffer climate change impacts by increasing land resilience
[32, 34]. Also, an interesting approach is to investigate how
local people deal with these challenges in terms of their per-
ceptions and behavior.
(i) How does biological invasion affect spatially and temporally
the structure and functionality of social-ecological systems?
Example: Many studies demonstrated that invasive species
have negative biological, economic, and societal conse-
quences. Here, similarly to question B, researchers controlled
the presence of invasive species or compared historical record.
However, recent works quantify not only native species rich-
ness and composition, but also animal/plant traits that
directly affect the delivery of ecosystem services, such as pro-
visioning (food, water), regulating (climate, flood control),
supporting (nutrient cycling, soil formation), and cultural
(ecotourism, cultural heritage) services [35]. But, invasive
species can provoke positive effects on social-ecological sys-
tems by incrementing the availability of natural resources,
impacting how people manage and use local biodiversity.
(j) What is the relationship between phylogenetic and taxonomic
diversity with biocultural diversity?
82 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Example: Recent studies have shown that there is a phyloge-

netic and taxonomic pattern in the resources that people
incorporate into their social-ecological systems, especially
medicinal plants. There is a tendency for people, in different
parts of the world, to use phylogenetically related plants for
the same purposes. Here, researchers can test how much this
affects the diversity of practices in a social-ecological system,
considering the environment, as well as its structure and func-
tions [36, 37].
(k) What environmental and social-political variables change the
structure and functionality of tropical social-ecological
Example: Testing the influence of human-driven environmen-
tal changes (e.g., fire, logging, warming) on keystone species
and, consequently, how this effect cascade down to other
species and ecosystem services (e.g., carbon storage, water
cycle, and fire dynamics) [38].
(l) Do species traits influence how local people distinguish useful
from useless plant or animal species?
Example: Investigating whether local people have a nonran-
dom preference when selecting animal or plant species. You
can evaluate whether different groups (e.g., tourists) or local
populations (e.g., fishermen) select species based on similar
traits. Recent studies have shown a potential link between
plant (e.g., color, leaf, flowering) and bird (e.g., color, vocali-
zation) traits and some cultural ecosystem services, such as
aesthetic, recreational, and spiritual/religious [39].
As you have noticed, the questions were more theoretical and,
consequently, you can derive testable predictions (using operational
variables) from them (Figs. 1 and 3). For example, from the ques-
tion “How does land use affect biodiversity maintenance and spatial
distribution of species at different scales?” we can derive two different
predictions: (1) population density (land use operational variable)
changes species composition and reduces species richness at the
landscape scale (prediction derived from the biotic homogenization
hypothesis [40]); (2) the composition of plant traits is different in
forest remnants with different matrices (sugarcane, cattle, city, etc.).

5 Final Considerations

Tell me your secrets

And ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start
Running in circles, coming up tails
Heads on a science apart
Going Back to Basics: How to Master the Art of Making Scientifically Sound. . . 83

Nobody said it was easy

(...) Pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
—The Scientist, Coldplay
This is an excerpt of a song by the British rock band Coldplay
from their 2002 album “A Rush of Blood to the Head.” The lyrics
are an amazing comparison between science and the ups and downs
of a broken relationship. The band made an astonishingly clear
statement that, as a scientist, we (should) frequently ask questions,
go back to the start after discovering they were wrong (or not) and
run in circles trying to improve our knowledge. The band described
in such an accurate way how cyclical (but not repetitive) is the
scientific method.
As the song goes: it is not easy, but learning how to ask good
questions is an essential step toward knowledge consolidation.
By including hypothesis testing in EEC we can be more precise.
Definitely, this does not mean descriptive science is useless at all. On
the contrary, the development of EEC, and mainly ethnobiology,
was built upon a descriptive frontline, which means it was valuable
to the foundation of Ethnobiology as a consolidated discipline
[41, 42]. However, recent studies advocate that ethnobiology
should dialogue with disciplines with stronger theoretical back-
ground, such as ecology and evolutionary biology to improve
research on biodiversity [43]. In turn, incorporating local knowl-
edge into ecology and evolution will certainly refine their own
development, which ultimately benefits biological conservation
[44]. In addition, (ii) there is an urgent need for training young
researchers in the philosophy and methodology of science, as well as
scientific communication and production [45].
As a concluding remark, we believe that the training of students
in EEC needs a reappraisal that necessarily goes back to basic
concepts and methods. Accordingly, researchers can combine the
hypothetico-deductive method with statistical thinking using a
research flowchart to go beyond description.


Assumption Conditions needed to sustain a hypothesis or build

the theory.
Hypothesis Testable statement derived from or representing vari-
ous components of a theory.
Mechanism Direct interaction of a causal relationship that results
in a phenomenon.

After Pickett et al. [25].
84 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Pattern Repeated events, recurring entities or replicated rela-

tionships observed in time or space.
Phenomenon An observable event, entity or relationship.
Prediction A statement of expectation deduced from the logical
structure or derived from the causal structure of a
Process A subset of phenomena in which events follow one
another in time or space, which may or may not be
causally connected. It is cause, mechanism or con-
straint explaining a pattern.

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Chapter 8

Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological,

Ethnobiological, and Conservation Hypotheses
Thiago Gonçalves-Souza, Michel V. Garey, Fernando R. da Silva,
Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque, and Diogo B. Provete

This chapter outlines the commonest multidimensional analysis used in ecology, ethnobiology, and conser-
vation. After mastering how to create a scientific research workflow based on a problem-based platform
(Chap. 7, in this book), readers will learn how to visualize complex datasets (e.g., species or ethnospecies
lists, several social-political or environmental variables, and so on), and test multivariate hypotheses. We
provide a full reproducible example of every analysis discussed in this chapter as an Online Material. We
further encourage students and researchers to move from a “description-based multidimensional analysis”
(such as using unconstrained ordination, like PCA) to an explicit hypothesis-testing framework that can
greatly improve learning and research programs.

Key words Data analysis, Hypothesis testing, Scientific research workflow, Ordination

1 Introduction

Multivariate methods can be roughly divided into two types: ordi-

nation and clustering. The first kind tries to sum up relationships of
one (or more) matrices and find the major axis of variation, while
the second tries to find groups in a dataset. Additionally, ordination
methods can be further divided into constrained and uncon-
strained. In this chapter, we will cover the most commonly used
ordination methods in ethnobiology, ecology, and conservation
(EEC) studies. In addition, we provided a full reproducible exam-
ple that you can run every analysis mentioned here in your com-
puter (Online Material).
We organized this chapter in the following structure: first, we
present how we can standardize/transform datasets before applying
the analysis, and also briefly the pairwise association measures (i.e.,
distance or similarity/dissimilarity measures). After that, we pres-
ent two unconstrained methods used in exploratory data analysis

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

88 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

applied to a single data matrix (e.g., environmental variables) such

as principal component analysis (Sect. 2.1), and principal coordi-
nate analysis (Sect. 2.2). Then, we divide analyses into four groups
associated with the type of hypotheses: (1) test the effect of several
predictors (e.g., environmental features) on one dependent variable
(e.g., species richness) (Principal Component Regression in Sect.
3); (2) analyze the effect of categorical independent variable (e.g.,
biome) on several dependent variables (e.g., species traits) (Permu-
tational Multivariate Analysis of Variance and Community-
Weighted Mean in Sect. 4); (3) test how several predictor variables
(e.g., social-political characteristics) affect several response variables
(e.g., medicinal plant used by local people) (Redundancy Analysis
in Sect. 5); and (4) test associations between each dependent
variable (e.g., traits) and one categorical independent variable
(e.g., habitat type) using the Indicator Value index (Sect. 6).

2 Exploratory Data Analysis and Visualization

2.1 Association Before going deep into analytical methods, we must first under-
Measures stand the concept of similarity, which forms the basis for any
clustering or ordination method. Association coefficients measure
the resemblance between objects (Q mode) or descriptors
(R mode). With a few exceptions, EEC studies are interested in
knowing the resemblance between objects (e.g., species), and less
often between descriptors (e.g., environmental variables). Associa-
tion measures for Q mode are the (dis)similarity between objects,
whereas those for the R mode are one of dependence, such as
correlation or covariance coefficients. For the remaining of this
Section, we will discuss dissimilarity coefficients used in ordination
techniques [1, 2]. Sections 4.2 and 5 will briefly discuss methods to
analyze the relationship between traits and environment that use
the R mode (e.g., RLQ, [3]), for more details on the Q mode see
Legendre & Legendre [4].
Dissimilarity measures can be classified based on how they treat
double zeros, type of data (binary or quantitative), and their sym-
metry. A (dis)similarity varies from 0 (minimum similarity) to
1 (maximum similarity), while a distance measure is the opposite
and has no upper bound. Therefore, objects that are shown closer
together in the reduced space are more similar to each other,
regarding their characteristics (e.g., species that have similar distri-
butional pattern). Distance measures can be calculated as D ¼ 1  S,
but can also be normalized to range between 0 and 1 by dividing it
by their maximum value. Yet distance coefficients can be metric,
semimetric, or non-metric. EEC studies only use metric and semi-
metric coefficients. The kind of data will guide the choice of a
distance measure (see Table 7.4 in Legendre and Legendre [4]).
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 89

Accordingly, observational EEC studies usually collect species

incidence or abundance in the field to make correlations with
environmental data. The main theory behind those studies is the
ecological niche concept [5], which states that individuals of species
are distributed in the environment such that their abundance is
highest at optimal values of a given environmental variable, lower-
ing in both ends (maximum and minimum) of that variable follow-
ing a Gaussian distribution. This pattern means that species absent
from two sites cannot be taken as evidence of the similarity between
those sites, since their environmental characteristics may be outside
the species niche (i.e., represent ecological extremes not occupied
by individuals of that species). Therefore, ideal similarity coeffi-
cients for use in EEC studies should disconsider double zeros.
Such coefficients are called asymmetrical, and they can handle
binary (incidence) or quantitative data (e.g., abundance).
The most commonly used binary asymmetrical coefficients
(or indices) are the Jaccard and Sørensen. The basic difference
between them is that Sørensen gives a double weight to joint
presences, but at the same time it is sensitive to variation in species
richness between sites, differently from the Jaccard index. Similarly,
coefficients for quantitative data can be symmetrical, such as the
Gower coefficient, or asymmetrical, such as the percentage differ-
ence (also known as Bray–Curtis coefficient). The Gower coeffi-
cient is useful because it can deal with descriptors with different
mathematical properties. Because of this, it has been increasingly
used in the functional trait literature (see Sect. 4.2), since a trait
matrix can contain a mixture of continuous, categorical multistate,
binary variables, etc. Conversely, the percentage difference coeffi-
cient deals with raw abundance data, raw meaning not requiring
previous normalization. This is a useful property because species
abundance is usually very skewed in ecological communities, with a
few abundant and many rare species. A number of ecologically
meaningful dissimilarity coefficients are available in the functions
vegdist of vegan [6], dist.ldc of adespatial [7], and dist.ktab of the
ade4 [8] package.

2.2 Transformations Ordination methods require that distance coefficients have a

for Abundance Data Euclidean property (i.e., metric), so objects are adequately dis-
played in the reduced space according to their shared characteris-
tics. However, distance coefficients that deal with species
abundance data are not Euclidean. In the case of incidence data,
binary indices are also not Euclidean (Table 1). This is problematic
because a PCoA (see Sect. 2.4) run with those data can produce
eigenvectors with complex or negative eigenvalues, which are not
readily interpretable. In those cases, one must transform the raw
dataset before computing the distances (Table 1). The recom-
mended transformation in this situation is the Hellinger transfor-
mation [9], but a recent study has combined the Box–Cox with the
90 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Table 1
Schematic representation of the main matrices used in EEC studies, with appropriate transformation
(when necessary), dissimilarity, and ordination methods applied to each one

Matrix Y represents the abundance (or presence/absence) of species (columns) at different sampling units, such as sites
(rows). Matrix T combines species in rows and traits in columns. Matrix X represents environmental or social-political
predictor variables (columns) at different sampling units (rows). Matrix E contains ecosystem properties (columns) of
different sampling units (rows). Notice that values in matrices T, X, and E can be of different types, such as numeric,
nominal, ordinal, binary, and fuzzy, or any combination of them

chord transformations for species abundance data [10]. In this

situation, a PCoA is done in two steps: first raw data undergo
Hellinger transformation, and then it’s calculated the distance
coefficient of interest (tb-PCoA, [4]).

2.3 Principal The aim of any ordination technique is to position objects

Component Analysis (or descriptors) in a reduced space compared to the original dataset.
(PCA) To accomplish that, an ordination method computes eigenvalues
and eigenvectors from a variance–covariance matrix of variables
(descriptors). Space is limited to explain the concept of eigenana-
lysis, but a good visual introduction that you can play with is
available at
But briefly, an eigenvector is the principal axis of the variance–cov-
ariance matrix, while an eigenvalue represents the amount of
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 91

variation captured by an eigenvector (see [4]). This procedure

inherently implies a loss of information. The first of these ordina-
tion techniques was proposed by Karl Pearson [11] and is called
Principal Component Analysis, which is based on the Euclidean
distance. It was initially used to analyze human morphometric
measurements, and it has been extensively used for a number of
purposes ever since. As it uses Euclidean distance, it accepts any
continuous descriptor, for example measurements of size and
shape, climatic, and edaphic variables. The advantage of PCA is
that it produces new variables (principal components) are that
orthogonal (i.e., independent to each other). This is useful when
one is dealing several variables collected in the field that are possibly
correlated to each other, for example.
As always, the research question dictates the kind of data that
will be collected and, consequently, the kind of association measure
and the ordination method that will be used. Below, we discuss an
application of PCA for exploratory data analysis of plant morpho-
logical traits. Despite being descriptive, notice that there is an a
priori expectation for the results.
Example 1:
l Theoretical question: Does species traits influence how local
people distinguish useful from useless plant or animal species?
l Example: Morphological traits of plants preferred vs. nonpre-
ferred by local people for medicinal uses.
l Question: how morphological traits of plants preferred
vs. nonpreferred by local people are distributed in the multidi-
mensional space? Which traits are more important for determin-
ing this sorting?
l Hypothesis: Preferred species will be more similar to each other
and cluster together in the reduced ordination space, but differ-
ent from the nonpreferred ones.
l Variables: Specific leaf area, proportion of bark area, leaf thick-
ness, potential plant height, seed mass.
l Sampling unit: plant species.
Here, we took the trait dataset recently published by Rodrigues
et al. [12] for tree species of Southern Brazil to illustrate this
question. This dataset contains traits of leaf, branch, maximum
potential height, seed mass, and dispersion syndrome of 117 tree
species. For the sake of simplicity and to illustrate how the method
works, we will use just a few traits and categorize half of the species
as being used by local people and the other half not used.
We then run a PCA on this dataset. Since the variables were
measured in different scales, we had to standardize them before
running the PCA (see Appendix for more details). Contrary to our
initial hypothesis, we found that preferred and nonpreferred species
92 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

had similar morphological characteristics and sampling units over-

lapped in the ordination space (Online Material).
Plant height and proportion of bark area were not very useful
for the formation of the axes. In the plot, the angle of the arrows
informs about the correlation of that variable with a given axis. For
example, SLA is closely related to axis 1, meaning that this variable
contributed very much to the formation of the axis and to distin-
guish species arranged along it, but not much to the second axis.
Interestingly, plant height is contributing equally to the formation
of both axes. This means that data points (species) arranged to the
right of the ordination plot (positive side) have a large SLA and are
tall. Similarly, those to the left are small trees and have small SLA,
but have thick leaves, large seeds, and high proportion of bark area.
The correlation of original variables with the principal components
is their loadings, which vary from 1 to +1 and are interpreted as
Pearson correlation coefficients. Accordingly, the position of indi-
vidual sampling units (in this case species) along the axis is their
score. For more details on interpreting PCA biplot, see Chap. 9 of
Legendre and Legendre [4]. As a final note, the sampling unit of
this example are species, which points to the need to incorporate
the phylogeny in order to account for the dependence among
them. We will not cover such phylogenetic comparative methods
in this book, but solutions to this specific problem with PCA exists
[13, 14].

2.4 Principal PCA is a useful method to sum up information in a data table, but
Coordinate Analysis an important limitation is that it only uses Euclidean distance.
(PCoA) Usually, researchers in EEC are interested in understanding how
species abundance changes along environmental gradients or
between different discrete areas. Abundance is count data, and as
such violates the triangle inequality of metric distances (see [4]). To
overcome this limitation of PCA, Gower [15] created a new eigen-
function analysis called Principal Coordinate Analysis (or PCoA),
which can deal with any coefficient of association. PCoA is an
eigenanalysis that works similarly to PCA. Thus, the terms, inter-
pretation of outputs and biplots are the same. The only difference is
that semimetric coefficients (see Sect. 2.1) tend to produce eigen-
vectors with negative or complex eigenvalues. Therefore, after
calculating the distance coefficient, one has to test if the distance
matrix is Euclidean before running a PCoA. This can be easily done
with functions is.euclid of package ade4, and dist.ldc of package
adespatial. Another way to overcome the problem is to use a
correction method to get rid of negative eigenvalues. There are
two methods that distort the distance matrix, forcing it to be
Euclidean: Lingoes and Cailliez [4].
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 93

l Theoretical question: How does land use affect biodiversity main-
tenance and spatial distribution of species at different spatial
l Question: How the relationship between morphological and
reproductive plant traits varies along an urbanization gradient?
l Hypothesis: Generalists (ruderal) species will be more common in
urban areas due to their high reproductive output (r strategy).
l Variables: 31 morphological and reproductive variables for
136 plant species along an urbanization gradient in France. In
the example below, we will use just diaspore mass (mg), seed
bank longevity, flowering duration, plant height, time of first
flowering, mycorrhizas, aerial vegetative propagation, and
mechanism of seed dispersal.
l Sampling unit: Species.
Since trait data were in different formats: three quantitative,
four semiquantitative (ordered factor), and one binary (dichoto-
mous), we used the Gower coefficient to calculate the distance
between species. Since this distance matrix is not Euclidean (see
above), we calculated the square-root of the distance matrix, which
turned out to be Euclidean (see Online Material). Thus, no correc-
tion method for negative eigenvalues was needed. In the Online
Material, we show the PCoA biplot with scaling 1, we can see that
species clustered into four distinct groups in the ordination dia-
gram. Accordingly, the presence of mycorrhiza and the mechanism
of seed dispersal were important to this sorting.
Another common application of PCoA in EEC studies is to
analyze species abundance matrices to explore patterns of species
distribution in space and time. In this case, instead of a morpho-
logical trait matrix as in the example, one would have incidence or
abundance data of species (rows) along sites (or time periods;
columns). In order to conduct a PCoA onto this kind of matrix,
one would have to calculate an appropriate distance coefficient. For
example, Jaccard or Sørensen for incidence data or percentage
difference for abundance. Notice however the need to take the
square-root of the distance matrix before running a PCoA, because
none of those coefficients are metric.
An interesting point in this kind of study is that species are
usually the sampling unit (object) to which one wants to know the
distributional pattern. Thus, the same problem with phylogenetic
autocorrelation arises as in the PCA example above. Again, meth-
ods have been recently proposed to deal with that situation [16],
called Double Principal Coordinate Analysis (see function dpcoa in
package ade4).
94 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

3 Testing the Effect of Several Predictors on One Dependent Variable

3.1 Principal Principal Component Regression (PCR) combines multiple regres-

Component sion analyses with Principal Component Analysis (PCA, Online
Regression Material). Instead of directly performing a regression analysis
using the dependent variable on the independent variables, PCR
uses a set of eigenvectors as predictor variables [17]. One of the
advantages of PCR is that it decreases the effective number of
parameters of the model (Fig. 1a). This is relevant in situations in
which there are many predictor variables, and relatively few sam-
ples—a common situation in EEC studies. Furthermore, one prob-
lem of many statistical analyses, particularly linear models, is dealing
with numerous correlated predictor variables, i.e., multicollinearity
[18]. When two or more of the explanatory variables are collinear
(existence of correlation between covariates), they add redundant

Fig. 1 Schematic representation of four approaches to test multidimensional hypotheses. Different approaches
were accompanied by operational questions and a graphical output to illustrate how to generate testable
predictions. (a) The first approach is used to investigate the effect of several predictors (that can be raw
environmental variables (X) or PCA scores (Xpc)—Page 12) on one dependent variable (e.g., body size, Fig. 2).
(b) The second approach investigates group differences with PERMANOVA (Page 14). (c) The third approach
tests how environmental gradients changes species or trait compositions (Page 20). (d) Lastly, you can identify
indicator taxa or traits with IndVal (Page 24)
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 95

information to the model, skewing the results by inflating standard

errors of coefficients [17, 18]. In these cases, a PCR can be useful
because we can reduce a large number of correlated variables down
to a smaller number of orthogonal components. One limitation of
PCR is that the components that explain most of the variance in the
predictor variables might not be the most important in explaining
the variance in the response variable in a multiple regression model
[19]. Other important point is that there is no single best method
to determine how many components to keep [1, 17]. For example,
the decision can be completely arbitrary (number of axes necessary
to represent 75% of the variance of the data), or using one of several
approaches to choose how many axes that represent interesting
variation of the data (e.g., Broken-stick model) and axes that merely
display the remaining, essentially random variance (see Borcard
et al. [17] for examples).
Example 1:
l Theoretical question: How do environmental gradients affect
geographic variation of species traits?
l Question: How do environmental gradients drive intraspecific
body size of Boana faber?
l Hypothesis: Boana faber have larger body size on colder sites.
l Dependent variable: body size of different individuals of Boana
l Independent variable: environmental variables (e.g., tempera-
ture and precipitation).
Here, we used data from Boaratti and da Silva [20] who tested
how environmental gradients affect the variation in B. faber body
size. They measured the body size of B. faber from specimens
deposited in scientific collections and downloaded temperature
and precipitation variables from the WorldClim database
[21]. Boaratti and da Silva [22] performed a PCA and used the
first two axes as predictor variables of body size in a PCR model.
The authors prepared a matrix containing the localities as rows and
average body size of B. faber populations and environmental vari-
ables as columns. Then, we generated PCR models with different
combinations of predictor variables. Boaratti and da Silva [23]
found that in cold and moist localities, individuals of B. faber are
larger than in warm and dry localities (F2,23 ¼ 14.76; R2 ¼ 0.36;
P < 0.001; Fig. 2).
Example 2:
l Theoretical question: How do we reconcile societal needs for
natural resources and nature conservation?
l Question: What is the relationship between the number of fish
species known by fishermen and their personal experiences?
96 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Fig. 2 Relationship between body size (snout–vent length—SVL) of 25 Boana

faber populations and the first principal component. In cold and moist localities,
individuals of B. faber are larger than in warm and dry localities

l Hypothesis: personal experience of fishermen increases their

knowledge about fish species.
l Dependent variable: number of fish species.
l Independent variable: personal experience (e.g., time as fisher-
man, number of fishing techniques used, whether or not his
father was a fisherman).
l Covariate: age.
We tested the prediction that personal experience increases the
number of fish species known by native fishermen living in islands.
We randomly selected 30 local fishermen, between 16 and 60 years
old, to evaluate their knowledge about fish species. For each fisher-
man interviewed, we obtained the following information: (1) num-
ber of fish species known; (2) fisherman’s age; (3) number of fishing
techniques used to capture fishes; and (4) if fisherman’s father was
also a fisherman. We created a matrix with personal experiences as
columns and each fisherman as rows. Then, we performed a PCA
onto this matrix. We generated PCR models with different combi-
nations of predictor variables. We found that fishermen whose
fathers were also fishermen and are working for a long time with
fishery know more fish species than fishermen whose fathers were
not fishermen and are working for a short time with fishery
(F2,28 ¼ 141, R2 ¼ 0.83, P < 0.001; Online Material).
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 97

4 Finding Differences in Species (or Trait) Composition Between Groups

4.1 Permanova Permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA) is

used in EEC studies to test hypotheses concerning differences in
the composition and/or relative abundances of different species
(i.e., dependent variables) between different groups or treatments
(i.e., independent variable). It is a nonparametric method that uses
any measure of dissimilarity (therefore we can use numeric, nomi-
nal, ordinal, and binary datasets as dependent variables) and com-
pares variability of multivariate datasets within groups versus within
groups, using a permutation test with pseudo-F ratios [22, 23]. For
example, we can use PERMANOVA to test if species composition is
different among three distinct environments: mature forest, sec-
ondary forest, and pasture (Figs. 1b and 4). PERMANOVA parti-
tions the sums of squares analogous to a traditional multivariate
analysis of variance (MANOVA) and calculated as follows: (1) the
within-group sum of squares as the sum of squared distances from
individual replicates to their group centroid; and (2) the among-
group sum of squares as the sum of squared distances from group
centroids to the overall centroid. One of the advantages of PER-
MANOVA is that, it does not assume that the data come from a
multivariate normal distribution (which is an unrealistic assumption
for most ecological data sets) differently from a MANOVA.
Although there is no explicit assumption regarding homogeneity
of variance within each group [22], PERMANOVA is sensitive to
differences in spread among groups and a separate permutation test
for significant differences in homogeneity of multivariate disper-
sions is recommended [22, 24].
Example 1:
l Theoretical question: How does land use affect biodiversity main-
tenance and spatial distribution of species at different spatial
l Question: How does land use affect arthropod species composi-
tion in the Brazilian Cerrado?
l Hypothesis: urbanization grade increases beta diversity of
l Dependent variable: arthropod species composition.
l Independent variable: urbanization grade (pastures, sugarcane,
and Cerrado protected areas).
We evaluated arthropod species composition collected in
5  5 m plots allocated in ten pastures, ten sugarcane fields, and
ten Cerrado protected areas. Considering the ecological niche the-
ory [5], our predictions are that (1) protected areas in the Cerrado
will harbor distinct arthropod species composition from pasture
and sugarcane areas, and (2) there is no difference in terms of
98 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Fig. 3 nMDS plots illustrating similarities in species composition among arthro-

pods in pasture (green color), sugarcane (pink color), and Cerrado protected
areas (blue color)

species composition between pastures and sugarcane. First, we

need to create a matrix with arthropod species as columns and
areas in rows). Then, we use the function adonis available in the
vegan package [6] to perform the analysis. Lastly, we performed a
nonmetric multidimensional analysis (NMDS, [4]) to graphically
represent arthropod species composition of the three treatments.
We found that species composition of arthropods is influenced by
land use (F2,27 ¼ 24.37, R2 ¼ 0.64, P ¼ 0.001) with pasture,
sugarcane and Cerrado protected areas showing distinct arthropod
species composition (Fig. 3).
Example 2:
l Theoretical question: What are the environmental drivers chang-
ing the structure and functionality of tropical social-ecological
l Question: How does urbanization affect local knowledge about
medicinal plant species?
l Hypothesis: Urbanization modifies the type (quality) of medicinal
plant species recognized by local people.
l Dependent variable: plant species composition.
l Independent variable: people living in different areas (rural, peri-
urban, and urban areas).
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 99

We tested the hypothesis that the knowledge about plant spe-

cies decreases along an urbanization gradient. Considering that
rural exodus and the transformation of rural areas into small cities
and villages have increased in the last century, and consequently the
dependency on local plant resource and the lower access to medici-
nal resources. Thus, our prediction is that people living in rural
areas will know more plant species with medicinal uses than people
living in peri-urban and urban areas. Also, they know different plant
species. We randomly selected 1000 local people, between 18 and
70 years old, living in rural, peri-urban and urban areas. We asked
people if they used local plants as medicine or if they recognized
plants with medicinal uses. Based on the answers, we created a
matrix with plant species in columns and each person in rows.
Then, we use the function adonis available in the vegan package
[6] to perform the analysis. Lastly, we performed a nonmetric
multidimensional analysis (NMDS) to graphically represent the
results. We found that local knowledge about species of plants
with medicinal uses is different along the rural-urban gradient
(F2,27 ¼ 12.25, R2 ¼ 0.47, P ¼ 0.001). People living in rural
areas had different knowledge about species of plants with medici-
nal use than those living in peri-urban and urban areas, but there is
no difference between people living in peri-urban and urban areas
(Online Material).

4.2 Community- A long-standing question in EEC is the association between envi-

Weighted Mean (CWM) ronmental features or social-political characteristics and species
traits. There are several methods developed for testing it, such as
RLQ [3], Fourth-Corner [25] and Community-Weighted Mean of
trait values (CWM, [26]). Conceptually, the CWM measures the
most probable attribute of a randomly sampled individual. This
method integrates trait and abundance distribution and, thus cal-
culates the dominant attribute found in the most common species
(i.e., dominant trait composition). CWM is calculated with the
following formula:
CWMt ¼ pi  traiti ,

where pi represents the relative abundance of species i in the site

m (i.e., the number of individuals of species i divided by the total
number of individuals in site m), traiti is the trait value of species i,
and n is the number of species in site m [26]. Therefore, the CWM
needs two different matrices: (1) site by species matrix (Y, where
rows represent m sites and columns n species: Table 1) and (2) spe-
cies by trait matrix (T, where rows represent n species and columns
t traits: Table 1). Then, the CWMt (for multiple traits) calculates
the most common value for each trait t per site m. The CWMt
matrix (Fig. 1) can be used as a multivariate dependent variable
considering m sites as rows and t traits as columns. The
100 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Fig. 4 Ordination diagram of principal coordinate analysis (PCoA) of the plant

traits selected by local people in different water scarcity regimes

environmental features (matrix X: Table 1), in turn, can be used as

predictor variables affecting trait composition (Table 1). Lavorel
et al. [27] argued that this method demonstrates little sensitivity to
different experimental methods used to estimate abundance and
trait value (but see limitations and improvements in Peres-Neto
et al. [28] and ter Braak et al. [29]).
To test the effect of predictor variables (e.g., land use, climate)
on trait composition, it is possible to combine CWM with PER-
MANOVA (Sect. 4.1, application in Rigal et al. [30]), RDA (Sect.
5.1, see Kleyer et al. [31]) or dbRDA (example in Solé-Senan et al.
[32]). By combining CWM with PERMANOVA you can test
whether different groups/treatments have distinct trait composi-
tion (Fig. 4). However, if you are interested in investigating how
trait expressions change along environmental gradients, you should
use RDA or dbRDA combined with CWM (Fig. 1b, d, [31]).
In the first approach, you need to calculate the CWM matrix to
represent dominant traits per site with the function functcomp
(package FD). This function accepts different types of variables,
such as numeric, nominal, and binary [33]. Then, we need to use an
appropriate distance coefficient (see Sect. 2.1) to measure trait
compositional distances. Similarly to Sect. 4.1, we used function
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 101

adonis to run a PERMANOVA and test whether trait composition

varies between different treatments/groups. The dependent vari-
able must be a distance matrix and independent variables can be
numerical (e.g., age), nominal (urban, peri-urban, or rural), or
mixed. Also, you must check the heterogeneity of multivariate
dispersions [24] when combining CWM with PERMANOVA.
Example 1:
l Theoretical question: What are the environmental drivers of the
structure and functionality in tropical social-ecological systems?
l Question: How does climate variability affect plant traits selected
by local people?
l Hypothesis: water scarcity modifies plant traits preferred by local
l Dependent variable: plant trait diversity and composition.
l Independent variable: water scarcity (wet and dry years) and
l Covariate: yearly unemployment rates, family income, number
of people per settlement.
We created an illustrative dataset in which one researcher inves-
tigated whether water availability affects plant selection by local
people (as a secondary resource) for fuelwood and feeding along
10 years. We selected six rural settlements with varying social-
political conditions, and ~300 households within ten families per
settlement. We repeated local inventories two times per year. We
conducted interviews and in situ inventories (for simplicity, meth-
odological details about them are omitted here) asking the follow-
ing information: (1) family income, (2) types of fuel used for
cooking (natural gas, fuelwood, and mixed), origin of wood and
vegetable/fruits (native plant collected in loco vs. commercial
wood or vegetables/fruits), plant traits selected for using as fuel-
wood (e.g., wood density) or food (e.g., fruit type).
We used three different matrices: matrix Y (species per sites),
matrix X (predictor variables per sites) and matrix T (trait per
species) (Table 1). First, we use the function functcomp (FD) to
calculate the CWM. After, we calculated the Euclidean distance
between sites. Then, we tested which variables affected trait com-
position combined with betadisper (vegan) to check between-
groups variance. Lastly, we can use PCoA to visualize possible
differences in trait composition between groups of interest
(Fig. 4). It is important to note that the variance of trait matrix
and predictor variables may affect the relevant traits/variables in
many analyses. Thus, some authors recommend transforming (e.g.,
log) or standardizing (e.g., unit variance) values before applying the
CWM and PERMANOVA analyses (Online Material). In our
example, we found that the most important predictor variable was
water scarcity (R2 ¼ 0.503, P < 0.001, Fig. 4), whereas
102 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

temperature (R2 ¼ 0.0004, P ¼ 0.328), unemployment rate

(R2 ¼ 0.03, P ¼ 0.001) and family income (R2 ¼ 0.002,
P ¼ 0.001) had a negligible effect. The dominant traits correlated
with the PC 1 were (1) preference for commercial wood
(r ¼ 0.931), (2) preference for commercial fruit/vegetables
(r ¼ 0.972) and wood density (r ¼ 0.829). These results indicate
that local people prefer dense fuelwood in the dry season, while
commercial wood, fruits, and vegetables are the preferred traits in
the wet season (Fig. 4).

5 Testing How Environmental Gradients Affect Species (or Trait) Composition

5.1 Constrained Redundancy Analysis (RDA) is mainly used in ECC studies for
Ordination testing hypotheses concerning environmental or social-political
factors (i.e., independent variables) that affect species distribution
among sites (i.e., dependent variable). Canonical analyses
(a synonym for constrained ordination) are called direct gradient
analysis because, unlike indirect gradient analysis (e.g., principal
component analysis - PCA: Sect. 2.3), the ordination of species
matrix is constraint to the predictor variables [4]. They can do so in
two different ways: symmetric and asymmetric [4]. Symmetric anal-
ysis does not distinguish between independent and dependent
variable matrices, generating the same result. Thus, this analysis
searches for common patterns between those matrices. Conversely,
in asymmetric analysis, results differ when inverting matrices,
because its mathematical procedure quantifies the variation of
response matrix explained by the predictor matrix. RDA assumes
a causal relationship between the dependent variable (we can use
numeric or binary datasets) and independent (numeric, nominal,
ordinal, binary, or mixed datasets: Table 7.1, Figs. 7.1 and 7.2 in
Chap. 7 in this book. First, RDA apply a multiple regression to each
variable Y (composition or local knowledge matrix) with all vari-
ables X (exploratory variables matrix), resulting in a constrained
matrix Ŷ. Then, a PCA is made onto the Ŷ matrix to obtain the
matrix of eigenvectors U. Finally, a multiple linear correlation is
applied between matrix Y and U. The results are linear combina-
tions between Y and X, in which the axes are linear combinations of
the environmental variables (gradient), and the species are the
response to this gradient [34]. Optionally, a permutation method
can be used to test the null hypothesis that the observed F statistics
is different from random or not. This F statistics is calculated for
each axis and environmental variable, which means that you can test
the relative importance of each predictor variable. Thus, you can
work with multiple hypothesis concerning each predictor variable
(e.g., temperature, family income) or groups of environmental
variables (e.g., soil characteristics, Fig. 1c). In addition, you can
obtain the variance explained (R2adj) by each variable (Fig. 5) and
contrast how environmental and spatial variables affect the
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 103

Fig. 5 Results of redundancy analysis (RDA) comparing environmental variables affecting the spatial
distribution of anurans

Table 2
Summary of redundancy analysis (RDA), showing eigenvalues, percentage of explained variance, and
P values of each axis

Canonical axes Eigenvalues Proportion explained P

RDA1 0.178 0.243 0.001
RDA2 0.040 0.055 0.733
RDA3 0.031 0.043 0.787
RDA4 0.013 0.017 0.970

dependent variables by combining RDA with variance partitioning

(analysis not presented in this chapter: see, e.g., Dray et al. [35]). As
part of the results, we obtain a triplot graph to visualize the data,
where site scores are plotted in their centroid in the ordination
space and environmental variables are plotted as correlations with
site scores. Also, factor loadings, which represent the correlation
between variables and canonical axis should ideally be reported
(Table 2). There is an essential difference between RDA and
CCA: whereas the first is used when the matrices X and Y have
linear relationships, the latter is based on chi-square distance, which
assumes that Y is related to X in a unimodal way. Therefore, a CCA
should be preferred when environmental gradients are long,
whereas RDA should be used for short gradients [4].
104 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

Example 1:
l Theoretical question: how does land use affect biodiversity main-
tenance and spatial distribution of species at different scales?
l Question: how does urbanization affect anuran species
l Hypothesis: land use intensification modifies anuran beta
l Dependent variable: the abundance of different anuran species.
l Independent variable: environmental descriptors of habitat asso-
ciated with urbanization.
To understand how environmental gradients affect the distri-
bution of anurans in anthropogenic landscapes, we sampled anuran
species composition in 20 lentic water bodies in urban and peri-
urban areas. In each water body, we measure four environmental
descriptors: (1) surface area, (2) percentage of pond canopy cover,
(3) amount of floating aquatic vegetation, and (4) urbanization
grade within a 200 m radius around the water body. Our prediction
is that urbanization grade is the main driver of the variation in
species composition. It is important to note there are other con-
founding variables that should be considered, such as climate [36]
and water chemistry [37]. First, we elaborate a matrix with anuran
species abundances in columns and water bodies in rows and a
matrix with environmental variables in columns and water bodies
in rows. Then, we use the function rda in the vegan package [6]. We
found that environmental variables influenced anuran species com-
position among water bodies (RDA global model: F4,15 ¼ 2.09,
P ¼ 0.001; Table 3). The degree of urbanization was the most
important environmental variable (Table 3, Fig. 5).
Example 2:
l Theoretical question: What are the environmental and social-
political drivers of the structure and functionality in tropical
social-ecological systems?

Table 3
Factor loadings showing the correlations between environmental variables and the axes of the
redundancy analysis (RDA)


Urbanization 0.986 0.151 0.062 0.019 0.001
Area 0.079 0.757 0.097 0.641 0.425
Vegetation 0.041 0.406 0.595 0.693 0.462
Canopy cover 0.384 0.142 0.773 0.485 0.527
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 105

l Question: How does the knowledge about cultivated medicinal

plants change in response to social-economic characteristics?
l Hypothesis: medicinal plants cultivated vary according to social-
economic characteristics of local people.
l Dependent variable: plant species known by local people.
l Independent variable: social-economic characteristics.
l Covariate: size of forest remnants.
We test the hypothesis that social-economic characteristics of
households influence the knowledge about cultivated plant species
with medicinal effects affecting the composition of plants
cultivated. We randomly sampled 20 households that had medicinal
plants in their gardens, and recorded plant species composition. We
obtained information on social-economic characteristics by apply-
ing local inventories. Questions asked pertained to family structure
(i.e., numbers of household members), number of years attending
school, family income, and how long have performs rural activities.
We know that forest remnant size could be associated with the
availability of medicinal plants. Thus, forest remnant area in each
property was considered as a covariate. We created a matrix with
plant species composition in each garden in columns and house-
hold in rows. Based on the answers of the local inventory, we
created a matrix with social-economic characteristics in columns
and household in rows. Then, we performed an RDA, as described
above. We found that social-economic characteristics influenced the
medicinal plants cultivated by people that live in rural areas (RDA
global model: F5,14 ¼ 1.7313, P ¼ 0.017; Table 4). The variation in
literacy among households was the most important variable
(Table 4).

Table 4
Summary of the redundancy analysis (RDA) showing eigenvalues and percentage of explained
variance by four axes, as well as the correlations (loadings) between social-economic characteristics
of household and axes


Eigenvalue 0.473 0.157 0.095 0.019
Proportion explained 0.199 0.066 0.040 0.008
Family 0.161 0.669 0.595 0.416
Literacy 0.942 0.256 0.096 0.193
Income 0.206 0.365 0.351 0.837
Rural activity 0.207 0.5190 0.803 0.207
Significant values are in bold
106 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

6 Identifying Indicator Taxa or Trait

6.1 Indicator Value The indicator value index (IndVal) is most commonly used in
Index studies to test associations between species (dependent variable)
with habitat type (independent variable). In other words, IndVal
can find indicator species [38]. IndVal is based on the degree of
species specificity with the site (i.e., exclusivity in terms of pres-
ence/absence or species abundance within a habitat type) and its
fidelity to that site (i.e., the frequency of occurrence of species in
the same habitat type) [39]. IndVal generates a value
(in percentage) whose maximum is 100%, when all individuals of
species i occur in all available sites within a single site group
(Fig. 1d). The significance of IndVal is obtained through a random-
ization procedure (e.g., Monte Carlo) and confidence intervals are
obtained by applying bootstrap methods [39]. Usually, two criteria
are used to say that a given species is an indicator of a habitat type:
P-value (P > 0.05) and an IndVal higher than 70% (see [40, 41]).
Example 1:
l Theoretical question: How to integrate scientific and local people
knowledge to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change
and land use on biodiversity?
l Question: Are there indicator species of environmental quality in
l Hypothesis: Habitat contamination affects species occurrence
among streams.
l Dependent variable: Ephemeroptera species.
l Independent variable: preserved and anthropized streams.
We evaluated Ephemeroptera species sampled using a dip net in
15 preserved and 15 anthropized streams in the Atlantic Forest.
Our prediction is that aquatic pollution will negatively affect the
occurrence of more sensitive species while favor other species,
which could be used as indicators of environmental quality. We
created a matrix with Ephemeroptera species in columns and areas
in rows. We then used the function indval in the labdsv package
[42]. Among the 13 Ephemeroptera species collected, three were
classified as indicators of ecological condition (Table 5). Two spe-
cies were indicators of preserved areas (B. prosculus and F. carioca),
and one anthropized streams (R. trichobasis).
Example 2:
l Theoretical question: How do we reconcile societal needs for
natural resources with nature conservation?
l Question: Is there any difference in the medicinal plants used
between indigenous and indicator species of environmental
quality in Ephemeroptera?
Multidimensional Analyses for Testing Ecological, Ethnobiological, and. . . 107

Table 5
Indicator value (IndVal) for different Ephemeroptera species in anthropized and preserved streams.
The Monte Carlo test was performed using 9.999 runs

Anthropized Preserved P
Americabaetis alphus 0.462 0.438 0.868
Aturbina georgei 0.299 0.552 0.162
Baetodes prosculus 0.000 0.800 0.001
Camelobaetidius juparana 0.000 0.267 0.110
Paracloeodes eurybranchus 0.400 0.187 0.277
Rivudiva trichobasis 0.401 0.0188 0.045
Tupiara ibirapitanga 0.000 0.267 0.100
Caenis cuniana 0.027 0.213 0.262
Campylocia anceps 0.023 0.043 1.000
Tricorythodes hiemalis 0.230 0.236 0.994
Tricorythopsis gibbus 0.101 0.099 1.000
Farrodes carioca 0.003 0.445 0.008
Needhamella ehrhardti 0.281 0.010 0.082

l Hypothesis: indigenous populations and immigrants use different

medicinal plants.
l Dependent variable: medicinal plant species.
l Independent variable: populations (indigenous and European
We tested the hypothesis that indigenous and immigrant popu-
lations use the same medicinal plants species to treat illnesses, due
to cultural exchange, especially when dealing with exotic plants. We
worked with a Guarani tribe and small farmers living nearby in
southwestern Brazil. We randomly selected 100 individuals
reported as specialists in medicinal plants in each population, rang-
ing from 30 to 70 years. The information was obtained using the
free list technique. We elaborated a matrix with medicinal plant
species in columns and areas in rows. We then used the function
multipatt available in indicspecies packages [37]. Among the
15 medical plants species, nine are used more specifically by a single
population, and six are used by both populations. Four species were
used commonly by immigrants: Cynara scolymus (IndVal ¼ 0.83,
P ¼ 0.0001), Cinnamomum aromaticum (IndVal ¼ 0.632,
P ¼ 0.003), Polianthes tuberosa (IndVal ¼ 0.620, P ¼ 0.038),
and Plumeria lancifolia (IndVal ¼ 0.592, P ¼ 0.009). Five species
of medical plants were used mainly by indigenous people: Joannesia
108 Thiago Gonçalves-Souza et al.

heveoides (IndVal ¼ 0.975, P ¼ 0.0001), Luehea divaricata

(IndVal ¼ 0.923, P ¼ 0.0001), Eichhornia crassipes
(IndVal ¼ 0.922, P ¼ 0.0001), Carapa guianensis (IndVal ¼ 0.751,
P ¼ 0.0007), and Impatiens balsamina (IndVal ¼ 0.632,
P ¼ 0.003). Most species are used by specific populations, indicat-
ing that illnesses treatment in many cases is done with distinct
medicinal plants species, evidencing a small cultural exchange in
relation to medicinal plants.

7 Concluding Remarks

While it is important to learn about the methods developed by previous genera-

tions of scientists, do not let yourself be silenced by their aura. If you think you
have a good idea, work on it, develop it, listen to criticisms, and publish it, thus
contributing to the advancement of the field. Do not let people tell you that
everything is known, or that you are too young or not good enough to contribute
to this field—or any other field of science [P. Legendre and L. Legendre

Pierre and Louis Legendre wrote in the preface of their pivotal

book on multidimensional analyses [4] how important it is for
students to advance the field with new (fresh!) ideas. Importantly,
this sentence is also motivational because working with complex
data require solutions that are not so obvious. Thus, we urge that
readers, specially students, face the fact that biological hypotheses
in EEC are complex and, consequently, testing them with multidi-
mensional methods can be the best choice for advancing the field.
However, you should be aware that using some methods, such as
unconstrained ordination (PCA) and hierarchical clustering to dis-
cuss a posteriori hypothesis do not represent an appropriate way to
go. Actually, we are an advocate for the integration of the
hypothetico-deductive method with multidimensional statistics to
test multiple predictions in order to promote the theoretical
advance of ethnobiology, ecology, and conservation. To achieve
this literacy on statistical thinking and multidimensional analysis
we encourage reading Legendre and Legendre [4], Mayo [43],
Taper and Lele [44], and Salsburg [45], that will open up a brave
new world for your scientific research.


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Chapter 9

The Use of Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional

Ecological Knowledge and Management Systems
Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

The use of multivariate analyses in diverse ethnosciences has greatly increased in recent decades, allowing for
quantitative studies of different questions related to traditional knowledge and its applications. The
potential use of those analytical tools, however, has still been modest in terms of the field of ethnoecology.
Within that context, the present chapter begins with a panoramic view of the use of multivariate analyses in
ethnobiology and ethnoecology and the principal themes and questions that have been recently addressed
in scientific publications. We discuss here the principal types of data, matrices, and techniques of multivari-
ate analysis, as well as data transformation, the construction of multivariate matrices, and the choice of
appropriate analytical techniques for each type of data set. Finally, we provide examples of the application of
those multivariate methodologies in ethnoecology.

Key words Ordination analysis, Multivariate analysis, Indirect analyses of gradients, Canonic analyses,
Quantitative ethnoecology

1 Initial Contextualization

Traditional knowledge comprises detailed information concerning

local biodiversity as well as information about the ecological,
hydrological, pedological, climatic, and astronomical phenomena
in a given region. That knowledge is organized in at least three
dimensions: a belief system (kosmos), information (corpus), and a set
of management or productive practices (praxis)—known as the K-
C-P complex [1]. In light of those characteristics, some authors
have suggested an analogy between traditional knowledge and
multivariate statistics [2, 3], as both are characterized by simulta-
neously considering numerous variables.
Multivariate analyses are useful in many areas of science, and
their use in ethnobiology and ethnoecology has greatly increased in
recent decades. One of the pioneering uses of multivariate techni-
ques to analyze ethnobiological data was published by Kaplan and

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

112 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

Levine [4], entitled “Cognitive mapping of a folk taxonomy of

Mexican pottery: a multivariate approach.” That paper sought to
analyze the different forms of classification and subjacent cognitive
structures involved in the (traditional) folk classification of the
ceramic cooking utensils in Valley of Puebla, Mexico. The authors
argue for the use of multivariate analyses throughout that article as
a powerful tool to aid in the identification of cognitive structures
together with ethnotaxonomic data. Numerous studies since that
time have employed multivariate analyses to characterize systems of
traditional biological classification, often comparing those systems
to formal scientific classifications [5–7].
The use of multivariate analyses in ethnobiology is not, how-
ever, limited to classification systems. Numerous expressions of
traditional knowledge and its applications have been studied using
multivariate statistics. Höft et al. [8] presented a very clear synthesis
of the use of multivariate analyses in ethnobotany, and we recom-
mend it for reading. Themes such as the traditional use of medicinal
[9, 10], edible [11], and woody plants [12], or the identification of
species for priority in terms of their conservation [13], and the
identification of new species through “genomic ethnobotany”
[3, 6], are just a few examples of the application of those mathe-
matical techniques in ethnobotany. Those tools have been less used
in ethnozoology (but consult [14, 15] until now, although they
retain the same potential reported for ethnobotany.

2 The Use of Multivariate Analyses in Ethnoecology

Multivariate analyses have been employed in ethnoecology to char-

acterize ecological knowledge and the use and management of
natural resources by traditional or local populations. One of the
themes examined through that perspective concerns comparative
studies of traditional ecological and scientific knowledge. The ques-
tions addressed by those studies have generally been related to the
existence, or not, of similarities within and between each of those
knowledge systems. Miller [16], for example, compared the folk
knowledge of fishermen with that of scientists specialized in fishing
technologies in terms of the relationship between fish abundance
and fishing stock structures in Hawaii using multivariate tools, and
discovered significant overlaps in the knowledge bases of both
Another topic that has been examined in the field of ethnoe-
cology in recent years considers the multiple factors that mold folk
knowledge and natural resource use. Multivariate analyses have
been employed in those cases to understand how social, ecological,
and economic factors influence human perceptions of timber and
non-timber resources and their harvesting. Many of those studies,
however, have been published in journals more directly related to
Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . . 113

ethnobotany (economic botany, ethnobotany research and applica-

tions), as they focus on plant resources. Even so, their themes can
be considered to fall within the realm of ethnoecology, as they
represent scientific studies of traditional ecological knowledge [17].
Some ethnoecological studies examine the management of a
specific resource and, in these cases, the use of multivariate analyses
could help reveal the diversities of management systems used by
traditional populations in their exploitation of that species—which
could represent the first stages of its domestication process
[18, 19]. Traditional management and domestication have been
studied from ethnobiological/ethnoecological points of view with
the support of multivariate analyses [20–22] as researchers seek to
investigate in what manner traditional management (human selec-
tion of phenotypes) has caused morphological and genetic differ-
ences between managed and unmanaged populations. Finally, from
the point of view of landscape management, the use of multivariate
techniques allows one to address historic ecological questions
concerning the domestication of landscapes and anthropogenic
influences on them. A case study by Zurita-Benavides [23]
recorded differences in diversity, equitability, and plant species
richness between managed and unmanaged forests—indicating
the roles of human populations in modifying natural areas within
the Amazon region.
We will examine in this chapter how multivariate analyses and
can aid our understanding of traditional ecological knowledge and
folk management practices with animal and plant species and land-
scapes. We will discuss the principal types of analyses applicable to
ethnoecological questions and how data gathered from interviews
or bibliographic material can be transformed into multivariate data.

3 Constructing a Matrix of Ethnoecological Data

Studies concerning ecological knowledge and traditional manage-

ment systems generally work with complex data tables and incor-
porate different variables to be correlated for given sets of samples.
In multivariate analyses, those tables are organized into matrices
that contain information concerning variables/descriptors (col-
umns) that qualitatively or quantitatively describe the samples
(lines)—which are the units we wish to compare. In elaborating a
multivariate matrix, it is important to define what samples and what
types of descriptors will be used. To that end, it is critical to
specifically formulate the question to be asked, as that will define
the organization of the data matrix. For example, in a situation in
which we are gathering information from farmers concerning
native plant species in the Caatinga domain and are interested in
knowing if certain groups of farmers preferentially use certain
plants, those farmers represent the “samples” and the plant species
114 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

are the “variables/descriptors.” As such, if our question is related to

whether there are certain groups of plants with distinct uses (e.g., as
food resources, for decoration, or in rituals) by a subset of a given
rural population, those plants should be considered samples and
the interviewees as descriptors—as we are interested in how the
plants are classified according to their uses. It is worth noting that
there are two principal modes of analyzing a multivariate matrix:
mode Q—when we wish to understand the relationships between
the samples; and mode R—when we are interested in the relation-
ships between the descriptors. This chapter will address analyses
related to the Q mode (comparisons between samples).
Numerous types of matrices have been used in ethnoecological
studies: matrices focusing on the knowledge and use of different
species among different social or ethnic groups; matrices with
floristic data from different areas with different degrees of human
intervention; matrices containing morphometric or genetic data of
ethnospecies or ethnovarieties; or matrices of the socioeconomic
data of interviewees. That diversity of data and matrix types allows
the use of different multivariate tools. Additionally, those matrices
can be analyzed individually or be related to two or more matrices
from the same study. We will return to that point later.
As mentioned above, it is essential to precisely define the ques-
tion(s) to be asked before initiating data collection and its organi-
zation, because it is often possible to gather specific information
concerning a given group of samples (e.g., socioeconomic and
ethnoecological matrices) and evaluate the relationships between
those variables (refer to the direct analysis of gradients in topic 4).

3.1 Types of The descriptors of a multivariate matrix can be classified as binary or

Descriptors multistate (Fig. 1). Binary data has only two possible states (e.g.,
present  absent, yes  no, live  dead), as, for example, when we
note that a given interviewee knows a given species, normally hunts
a given animal species, or uses a given management practice.

Fig. 1 Types of descriptors used in a multivariate matrix

Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . . 115

Multistate data can be “nonordered” (i.e., qualitative) or

“ordered” (semiquantitative or quantitative). In some situations,
we might wish to compare knowledge between individuals belong-
ing to different social or ethnic groups concerning a certain
resource or set of resources. In those cases, the social or ethnic
group constitutes a multistate nonordered (qualitative) datum.
Qualitative data represent nominal descriptors that do not have a
numerical order among the categories. As such, for that qualitative
data to be used in a multivariate analysis, it must be transformed
into binary data (0–1)—a subject that we will address in the follow-
ing section. There is also a third type of data that is quite frequently
encountered in ethnoecological studies—multistate ordered
(semiquantitative) data. In those cases, there are also categories,
but they demonstrate an ordering. For example, plant populations
subjected to management can be classified (in a simple way) as wild,
semi-domesticated, or domesticated. Those categories demonstrate
an order, as they represent a gradient of greater or lesser degrees of
Quantitative data can be continuous—measurable variables
within a continuous scale (e.g., units of time, size, or height), or
discrete—measurable variables that assume only entire values, gen-
erally obtained from counting (e.g., the abundance or
use-frequency of a resource), with the latter data type being more
common in studies of traditional ecological knowledge.
There are situations where the researcher needs to transform
the data before the analysis. Data transformation are usually under-
taken for a variety of reasons, such as: [24].
1. Make comparable descriptors that have been measured in dif-
ferent units (e.g., distance in km, wide in cm, weight in kg);
2. Normalize the variables data and stabilize their variances;
3. Code non-ordinated multistate (qualitative) variables into
binary variables. We provide below an example of how to
proceed with this transformation. For more information on
data transformation consult [24–26].

3.2 How Can Non-ordinated multistate (qualitative) data must be transformed/

Qualitative Data Be codified into binary data before it can be used in multivariate
Transformed? analyses. In these cases, each category of a variable must be trans-
formed into a descriptor. For example, assume that we are working
with populations of different ethnic groups (A, B, and C). In that
case, the descriptor cannot be “ethnic group”, but rather each
group must be transformed into a descriptor (Table 1).
We must therefore always be aware of the quantity of qualitative
data included in a multivariate analysis, as its incorporation gener-
ally results in large numbers of descriptors and (it is important to
116 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

Table 1
Example of a homogenized matrix containing a binary variable (sex),a a nonordered multistate
variable (ethnic group), and quantitative continuous data (frequency of firewood collecting)
transformed into binary data

Frequency of Frequency of firewood Frequency of

firewood collecting collecting (between firewood collecting
(up to two times/ three and four times/ (more than four
Individual Sex Group A Group B Group C month) month) times/month)

1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0
2 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
3 1 0 0 1 0 0 1
In the case of binary variables, we recommend that the authors use only one of the possible states in the analysis matrix

note) in some types of analyses (e.g., principal component analysis)

the numbers of descriptors cannot exceed the numbers of samples.
The term heterogeneous matrix is used to describe a matrix
that contains different distinct types of descriptors (binary, semi-
quantitative, quantitative). The use of that type of matrix is not
recommended for many multivariate analyses, however. If you do
come to work with a high number of binary descriptors, one option
to uniformize your matrix is to convert the quantitative descriptors
into binary forms (Table 1). Two problems associated with that
transformation, however, are the loss of distinctions between the
samples (which then assume the same category), and the loss of
amplitudes of difference between the samples. If the transforma-
tion of a heterogeneous matrix into a homogeneous matrix results
in a large loss of information, one option might be to employ a
similarity coefficient for the mixed data (Gower coefficient). The
general coefficient of similarity proposed by Gower [27] allows the
combination of different types of descriptors into the same matrix,
processing each descriptor according to its own mathematical char-
acteristic. More detailed information concerning that coefficient
can be found in [25]. After calculating the Gower coefficient, it is
possible to use the resulting triangular matrix (matrix of similarities
between the samples) in grouping analyses and in some types of
ordination, as will be demonstrated in the following section.
We recommend that the authors always advise the readers
about the types of data used as descriptors, as well as the criteria
used in its collection, as demonstrated in the following example
(Table 2).
Now that we have considered the theme of the matrix, we will
now examine what are the principal types of multivariate analysis,
what exactly they are and do, and how they are classified.
Table 2
Suggestions of descriptions of the data matrices used in multivariate analyses

Context Variable Type Description Criteria and values

Socioeconomic Age Discrete quantitative Age of interviewee (years)
Profession Multistate Principal professional activity
Schooling Discrete quantitative Number of years of study
Income Continuous Monthly wage (US$)
Ethnoecological Distance to the collection Continuous Distance (in km) to where the species is
area quantitative collected
Quantity of the resource Discrete quantitative Number of individuals of the target species in
the collection area
Quality of the resource Discrete quantitative Percentage of individuals affected by pests or
Collection intensity Discrete quantitative Number of collections per week
Resource management Multistate ordinated Type of management practice used with 1 ¼ tolerated; 2 ¼ protected;
populations of the target species 3 ¼ promoted; 4 ¼ cultivated
Landscape management Multistate ordinated Degree of landscape management 1 ¼ promoted; 2 ¼ managed;
3 ¼ cultivated
Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . .
118 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

4 Multivariate Analyses: Types and Principal Methods

Multivariate analyses can be classified into two large groups: depen-

dence techniques and interdependence techniques [28]. Depen-
dence techniques assume, a priori, that one or more of the
variables are dependent on the behaviors of other variables, that
is, there are predictor variables that act upon response variables.
Examples of techniques of dependence are multiple regression,
canonic correlation analysis, linear models of probability, and struc-
tural equation modeling. Interdependence techniques are used to
explore the interrelationships of multiple variables to evaluate pos-
sible associations or correlations between them. Within that group
are classification/grouping analysis and ordination analysis, and
they will be examined primarily in the present chapter. Techniques
of interdependence are widely utilized in exploratory analyses and
aid investigations focusing on the structure of the data and the
identification of patterns as well as grouping among samples.
Classification analyses group samples according to the
descriptors utilized. To perform grouping, the multivariate data
matrix must initially be submitted to an analysis of similarity or
dissimilarity that will generate indices of similarity or difference
between the samples based on the descriptors utilized. Ordination
analyses arrange samples along gradients based on two or more
descriptors. In such an ordination, each descriptor of the data
matrix represents a dimension. The central objective of an ordina-
tion analysis is, therefore, to reduce a large number of variables to
just a few dimensions (with a minimum loss of information), there-
fore permitting the detection of the principal patterns of similarity,
association, and/or correlation between those variables [29]. The
samples are ordinated within a bidimensional or three-dimensional
space according to the similarities between them. Ordination does
not, however, force the formation of groups (as do classification
analyses). In an ordination diagram, the groups can be defined
using two principal criteria: cohesion (the degree of proximity of
the samples within a given group) and isolation (the distance
between two or more groups). One advantage of ordination ana-
lyses over classification analyses is that when examining a biplot of
an ordination is possible to evaluate which descriptors are responsi-
ble for the groups that were formed. Biplots express the scores of
the samples and descriptors (Figs. 2, 3, and 4). We will therefore
focus on the use of ordination analyses in ethnoecology in the
present chapter.
Ordination analyses can be divided into indirect analyses of
gradients, when there is only a single data matrix, and direct
analyses of gradients (or canonic analyses), when there are two
or more data matrices to be correlated. Among the principal indi-
rect analyses of gradients used in ethnobiology/ethnoecology
Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . . 119

Fig. 2 Biplot diagram of a principal component analysis (PCA). In PCA the descriptors are quantitative and
visualized as vectors and the samples as circles

studies are: principal component analysis (PCA) and correspon-

dence analysis (CA), which are based on auto-analyses and the
utilization of rectangular matrices (samples x descriptors), and
non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) and principal
coordinate analyses (PCoA or PCO), which are performed using
distance matrices between samples (triangular matrices). Few pub-
lications, however, have so far used direct analyses of gradients such
as canonic correspondence analysis (CCA). Examples will be given
in the next section of the use of some of those analytic techniques,
and we will discuss still other possibilities of comparing matrices,
such as the Mantel Test.

Box 1 Pay Attention!:

The most important thing to consider when choosing an ade-
quate analysis for your research is the type of matrix being used
(heterogeneous x homogeneous) and the behavior of the data in
that matrix (linear or unimodal). In order to determine if the
data demonstrates linear or unimodal responses, one must know
the size of the gradient that the data set describes, which is
related to the heterogeneity of that data set (i.e., how distinct
your samples are from each other). As such, the first step to be

120 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

Fig. 3 Biplot diagram of a correspondence analysis (CA). In this CA the descriptors were transformed into
binary data for homogenization of the matrix. Descriptors are showed as asterisks and samples as circles. The
colors of circles denote the sex female (red) or male (blue)

Box 1 (continued)
taken (which must be done before any ordination analysis)
includes the quantification of the gradient expressed along the
first ordination axis of a Detrented Correspondence Analysis
(DCA). DCA is an ordination technique derived from CA that
was created to reduce the “arc effect” generated by extensive data
gradients [30]. In a simplified view, we can consider this analysis
to detrend, along the first ordination axis, the gradient that a CA
would exhibit along axes 1 and 2. As such, the first axis of a DCA
is scaled in standard deviation units (SD) and displays, at its
extremities, the most widely separated samples. The length of
the axis indicates whether the data of the matrix demonstrates a
linear/monotonic response (SD < 1.5) or unimodal (SD > 3)
behavior. Matrices that describe gradients between 1.5 and 3.0
(SD) are generally used in analyses processing either linear or
unimodal data. More detailed information concerning DCA can
be obtained in [26, 31].
Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . . 121

Fig. 4 Triplot diagram of a canonic correspondence analysis (CCA), with information about the samples and
descriptors of the primary matrix (ethnoecological), visualized as asterisks, and secondary matrix (socioeco-
nomic), visualized as vectors

The box below (Fig. 5), adapted from Palmer [32], describes
which multivariate analyses are adequate for what types of data.
Legendre and Legendre [25] and McCune et al. [26] also provide
valuable information concerning that subject.

5 Ethnoecological Applications

We present here examples of studies that employed indirect multi-

variate analyses (a single data matrix) and direct analyses of gradi-
ents (two or more matrices).

5.1 Principal Blanckaert et al. [21] combined ethnobotanical, genetic, phyto-

Component Analysis chemical, and morphological data to test for possible differences
(PCA) between managed and non-managed populations of an edible
Mexican species (Chenopodium ambrosioides) using different multi-
variate techniques. Those authors used PCA to compare the mor-
phological data of the two types of populations; the samples
consisted of individuals of C. ambrosioides, while the descriptors
were morphometric characters (17 continuous and three
non-ordinated multistate). Those descriptors were measured in
different treatments based on two factors: (A) the plant variety,
and (B) management technique, as identified by the ethnobotanical
data. Five individuals of each of the two treatments were measured:
(1) the red variety + wild type, (2) red variety + incipient
122 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

Fig. 5 Choosing the appropriate analysis for your data type. Adapted from Palmer (2009)

management, (3) white variety + wild type, (4) white variety +

incipient management, and (5) white variety + intense manage-
ment. As such, the morphometric matrix contained data of 25 sam-
ples and 20 descriptors (see Table 1 of the article). The data
obtained from the ordination diagram revealed the existence of
morphological varieties associated with the gradient of manage-
ment intensity. Those results, combined with genetic and phyto-
chemical data, suggest that the focal species is demonstrating the
effects of incipient domestication.

5.2 Partial Canonic Rangel-Landa et al. [22] investigated how the types and intensities
Correspondence of management of edible, medicinal, and ceremonial species used in
Analysis (pcca) Ixcatlán (Oaxaca, Mexico) are influenced by sociocultural and eco-
logical factors. To that end, those authors used a method of direct
analysis of gradients—partial canonic correspondence analysis
(PCCA). PCCA is a special type of CCA that is used to correlate
two matrices while controlling the effects of a third matrix on the
first two (see [25] for more information). Those analyses therefore
considered three matrices: a matrix of sociocultural data; a matrix of
ecological data; and a management matrix (response matrix). It is
important to note that whenever canonic analysis is employed, it
compares two or more matrices related to the same set of samples.
Multivariate Tools in Studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. . . 123

In the case of that study, the three matrices contain distinct descrip-
tors for the same samples (plant species). For more details
concerning the matrices, consult Table 2 of that article. A CCA
was performed for each type of use in order to identify which
fraction of the relative variations of management is explained by
the sociocultural and ecological predictors, and what are the effects
of the interactions of those two factors. As such, partial analyses
were performed on the different combinations of those three matri-
ces: (1) CCA with the ecological matrix; (2) CCA with the man-
agement matrix explained by the sociocultural matrix; (3) CCA
with the management matrix explained by the ecological matrix;
and (4) CCA with the management matrix explained by the com-
bined effects of the sociocultural and ecological matrices. The
results of those analyses revealed that the sociocultural variables
influenced the type and intensity of management more heavily
than the ecological variables for the interactions between ecological
and sociocultural variables. That pattern was identified in all three
use categories.
We stressed the word “how” in the example above, as the type
of question posed is directly linked to the type of multivariate
analysis to be chosen. CCA provides information about how the
descriptors in the second matrix are correlated with the data of the
first matrix, so that it is possible to know if those descriptors are
responsible for the formation of the groups. That result constitutes
one of the principal advantages of canonic ordination analyses.
Those analyses allow us to understand, in an exploratory way,
how the variables relate to each other (collinear variables) and
with the sample set (how they explain the formation of groups)—
thus allowing one to better understand the internal functioning of
the system. If the researcher is only interested, however, in knowing
if a data matrix is correlated (or not) with a second matrix, the
Mantel test can be used. That test correlates (for the same sample
set) two similarity or distance matrices, in a partial Mantel test
format in which the effects of a third matrix can be controlled [26].

5.3 The Mantel Test Alves et al. [33] analyzed the resource harvesting strategies used by
itinerant apiculturists in the semiarid region of Brazil. Those api-
culturists are generally organized into family groups and move their
beehives from one place to another during the dry season to areas
with more abundant flowering. One of the hypotheses raised by the
authors refers to the influence of social factors on the strategies used
for obtaining resources. They sought to determine whether the
apiculturists tended to collect resources in certain areas according
to the social group to which they belonged. To that end, two
similarity matrices were constructed using the Jaccard index. The
first matrix evaluated the similarities of the participants in regard to
their social relationships. In that case, the authors were interested in
knowing if there was any correlation between the social
124 Cristina Baldauf and Nivea Dias dos Santos

relationships of the apiculturists and the foraging areas they used.

The two matrices were correlated using the Mantel test, with a
resulting high and significant value (r ¼ 0.861; p < 0.001), indicat-
ing that the choices of the foraging areas were strongly associated
with the social relationships between the apiculturists.

6 Final Considerations

This chapter presents a view of the universe of multivariate analyses

available, and their potential for analyzing ethnoecological data. We
strongly recommend that readers who might wish to use them
acquire more information about these types of analyses. To learn
more about the possibilities introduced here, as well as other mul-
tivariate methodologies, there is considerable literature available
that was used in preparing this chapter, and which we recommend
for study [24–26, 28, 34]. In addition to those books, the site
prepared by Palmer [35] supplies tips and important information
about the different methodologies presented here. It should be
stressed that the appropriate use of multivariate analysis in ethnoe-
cology will depend on well-formulated questions, adequate meth-
ods of data collection and, obviously, correct interpretations of the
results—so that the human dimension is not lost within the


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Chapter 10

The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual

Contribution in the Application of Meta-Analysis and the
Development of the Macro-Ethnobiological Approach
Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán, David Valenzuela-Galván,
Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque, Francisco Reyes-Zepeda,
Leonardo Uriel Arellano-Méndez, Arturo Mora-Olivo,
and Luis-Bernardo Vázquez

From local level ethnobiological research, patterns have been identified in the relationships between human
groups and natural resources. Although these patterns are consistent, they are unknown at a wider
spatiotemporal scale, as well as the variables and the causal mechanisms that originate them. One of the
factors that could be influencing the lack of study of social-ecological patterns is the ignorance of new
macro-scale analysis perspectives; as well as the absence of a semantic, conceptual, and analytical framework.
For this reason, it is proposed to establish a semantic-conceptual framework of areas in which ethnobiology
can be developed at a macro-scale, which is the application of meta-analysis and the development of macro-
ethnobiology. Both perspectives develop larger-scale research (space-time) and are based on the analysis of
local information (primary information), identify variables, use statistical analysis, and determine processes
and patterns by analyzing data heterogeneity. However, both disciplines have different goals, as well as the
use of analysis tools. For the adequate development of any of these two approaches in ethnobiology, it is
essential to conceptually know the discipline, select the primary information under quality criteria, fulfill
with the theoretical assumptions of statistical tests, make an adequate interpretation of data variation and
have the support of experts. It is not about proposing new disciplines, but broadening the study approach of
ethnobiology, revaluing primary information, analyzing variables together and identifying social-ecological
processes and patterns. We consider that on a broader scale, the analysis is workable for the understanding
of social-ecological relationships.

Key words Ethnobiology, Meta-analysis, Macro-ecology, Social-ecological relationships

1 Introduction

Ethnobiology is a multifactorial and interdisciplinary research field

[1] which seeks to understand the relationship of cultural, social,
biological, and environmental factors [2] by obtaining and

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

128 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

accumulating data that can be studied at different spatiotemporal

scales; allowing for the identification of social-ecological patterns.
From ethnobiological research, social-ecological patterns have
been identified at the local level, for example at the level of tradi-
tional classification [3–7], plant species domestication and manipu-
lation [8, 9], the use of wildlife [10] and edible fungi [11], among
others. However, although such patterns are evident at a local level
[12, 13], few larger scale studies analyze them.
Ethnobiological data study at different spatiotemporal scales
allows to define the social-ecological patterns, as well as the vari-
ables that originate them. For example, Molares and Ladio [14]
study Mapuche ethnobotany (Argentina and Chile) demonstrating
that there is a set of common knowledge, but with through time
cultural erosion. One of the identified social-ecological patterns is
that of biocultural diversity, recognized as the spatial co-occurrence
between biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity [15–17],
which has been related to the Rapoport rule as a statistical explana-
tion between these similarities [18] generating an overlapping
among the zones with the greatest biodiversity and “hotspots”
conservation priority, and the most diverse cultural regions of the
planet [19].
Other data on social-ecological patterns are:
I. Human populations genetic variation as an effect of geo-
graphic isolation and dynamics [20].
II. Evolutive and adaptive processes on geographic distribution
and dynamics of language generated by migration
phenomena [21].
III. The support given by natural resources to the development of
human societies complying with the laws of physics and
energy [22].
IV. Biodiversity loss and the disproportionate growth of human
societies with an effect of ecosystem homogenization
V. Current distribution modification of some species due to
anthropogenic factors [26].
VI. Influence of macro-ecological patterns in agricultural settle-
ment systems [27].
VII. Or the biophysical constraints of land on development, sus-
tainable consumption and its effect on macro-economics
The identification of many of the aforementioned patterns is
mainly due to approaches from other research disciplines different
from ethnobiology, especially from human macro-ecology. How-
ever, the analysis of this type of interrelations is viable from ethno-
biology; because it is a growing, multidisciplinary orderliness,
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 129

combining both biological and cultural information. This leads to

taking concepts and methods in order to generate new theoretical
bases [33], as well as to restructure its approach and strengthen a
research program not yet completed [2]. And it is one of the most
promising alternatives, for its conceptual and methodological con-
struction, adopting procedures already in use in consolidated fields,
such as ecology [34] and also studying in detail the already accu-
mulated (ethnobiological) data set, which can be analyzed from the
meta-analytical or macro-ethnobiological approach for the under-
standing of social-ecological patterns.
As evidence of conceptual growth at different spatiotemporal
scales of ethnobiology, we can see that new research perspectives
have emerged, such as:
I. Evolutionary ethnobiology (EE) which studies the history of
patterns between human behavior and biological resources
[2, 35].
II. Niche construction theory (NCT) as an integrating scenario
for studies that investigate the effect of human activities on the
environment [36].
III. Macro-ethnobiology as a macroscopic statistical analysis for
phenomena that tend to repeat in different places [12].
IV. Or the application of meta-analysis in the evaluation of tradi-
tional knowledge [37].
Therefore, we will focus on two of these approaches: meta-
analytical and macro-ethnobiological, contributing with a concep-
tual framework that allows for ethnobiological analysis at other
scales and with it the identification of processes, patterns, and
social-ecological variables that underlie them; as well as its consoli-
dation and development.

2 Application of Meta-Analysis or Meta-Analytical Approach in Ethnobiology

Albuquerque and Medeiros [12] propose macro-ethnobiology as a

research stream focused on macroscopic level study approach,
focusing its analysis on the statistical understanding of social-
ecological phenomena, through meta-analysis application. How-
ever, the term macro-ethnobiology may cause confusion if it is
related to macro-ecology, because they are two totally different
approaches and analyses.
Therefore, it is suggested for the general framework of its
conceptualization to be the application of meta-analysis or the
meta-analytical approach of ethnobiology. Having as main goal to
develop an integrative research by combining disparate research
components (concepts, methods, and data) that is, by adding pri-
mary information (previous works) for the construction of large
130 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

data sets (“big-data”), characterized by presenting high levels of

complexity, diversity, and heterogeneity. These large data sets pres-
ent variables which, quantitatively analyzed, based on the a priori
construction of hypotheses and through systematic reviews and
meta-analyses, explain processes and patterns.
Systematic reviews are used in the synthesis of information
guided by a predefined research question or by a previously delim-
ited problem. They use simple methods to evaluate and filter infor-
mation, creating a replicable review [38] but which is generally
qualitative, although they can also include statistical analyses and
should show clarity in the selection criteria for the included studies.
Systematic reviews often focus on defining a general research land-
scape [39]. However, they may present limitations to contrast the
found evidence, in order to generalize processes and patterns or to
identify information gaps ([39, 40]; Fig. 1).
In contrast, meta-analyses are based on sophisticated statistical
analysis procedures, which bring benefits to the understanding of
the development of the research disciplines in which they have been
applied [41]. These integrate multiple independent studies, quan-
tify effects or describe processes structure, through large data sets
variation. They are recognized for increasing confidence and data
synthesis, as well as identifying information gaps ([40–46]; Fig. 1;
Box 1). They are used in large-scale patterns determination, allow-
ing for the construction of generalizations and evidence-based
assumptions [41]. It is also considered that they generate transfor-
mative research, because the solidity patterns of the integrated data
are able to identify causal factors [39].

Fig. 1 General schematization of systematized reviews and meta-analysis. I. Systematic review. II. Meta-
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 131

Box 1 Generalities to Be Considered in the Application

of Meta-Analysis in Ethnobiological Researches:

Meta-analytical approach development

I A priori hypothesis or delimited problem: General and wide questions
should be avoided. Instead, questions should be concrete and be
based on a previous review of data availability. They should describe a
challenge that can be addressed with the concentrated effort of a
small working group
II Primary information or literature inclusion: A thorough literature
review should be carried out. In addition, some authors recommend
including only literature from impact factor journals in order to avoid
bias in the data analysis. However, due to the nature of
“ethnodisciplines,” characterized by multiple methodologies in
generating primary information, it is possible to be flexible and
include information that is available in libraries, or that does not have
an impact factor, or that take advantage of high accessibility to online
documents. Much of this information has gone through a rigorous
process, for example, establishment of research objectives,
monitoring of a methodological framework in its development and
has been reviewed by expert academics. However, we do not consider
adequate for inclusion information derived from sources such as
abstracts from congresses or posts on personal websites
III Inclusion criteria: To provide greater methodological robustness and
avoid biases in the inclusion of primary information, search filters
must be established, for example, a set of keywords
IV Variables or variable coding: These depend directly on the research
question and on the available information, since sometimes the primary
sources of information do not use the same methodology. If so, a
categorization framework of variables can be established to homogenize
the primary data. The categorization of variables should corroborate the
influences of the primary information on the processes or patterns
sought. It is essential to take into account, when categorizing the
variables, that the primary information data are all accessible
V Effect size or data heterogeneity: In order to integrate the results of the
primary information, an indicator applicable to all independent
results must be defined. This reflects the magnitude of the
relationship among the involved variables. Different indices can be
used; in this way the primary information is represented in the meta-
analysis by an index of the effect size
Statistical analysis and its interpretation: Descriptive, parametric,
nonparametric, and even multivariate statistics can be used. For
ethnobiological data, since they usually do not fulfill the norms of
data normality, the application of nonparametric tests is
recommended. It is indispensable to consider the application of the
statistical tests to comply with the theoretical suppositions
VI Processes and patterns: The obtained results must answer the research
objective, focusing on the a priori hypothesis, on the processes or
trends that were expected, or on those that the data reflect
132 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

Meta-analysis application is new and robust; however, it has

the disadvantage of overestimating or underestimating results if
criteria are not met during the primary information selection,
data validation, theoretical assumptions of chosen statistical
tests, or because of an inadequate interpretation of these
([42, 43, 47, 48]; Box 2). To minimize this effect, it is proposed
to standardize the primary data search methods as a quality
control, establishing limitations during primary information
selection, as well as to evaluate data variation through heteroge-
neity tests and to fulfill theoretical assumptions of the statistical
tests ([46, 49]; Box 3).

Box 2 Criticisms on Ethnobiology Meta-Analysis

Development and Its Similarity with Other Disciplines:

General critics on ethnobiology applied meta-analysis

I Effect size overestimation: This happens when including primary
ethnobiological information published with negative data or in favor
of the prevalence of some paradigm. This effect can be minimized by
conducting a systematic and controlled review
II Heterogeneous data inclusion: It depends on the similarity among
ethnobiology studies so they are significant when combined, in
ethnobiology there is usually a variety of ethnographic sampling
types, informants, ethnographic tools and in the ethnospecies
identification at a taxonomic level. These barriers can be passed by
applying hierarchical methods
III Poor quality studies inclusion: When adding studies which do not fulfil
the minimum methodological criteria or that the parameters have
not been adequately measured
IV Variable correlation (co-variables): it is a variable that is not controlled
in the data taking; it shows a high correlation with the dependent
variable, and therefore the higher the correlation value, the greater
the error

Meta-analysis application in ethnobiology is justified by the

contribution and growth of research at local, regional and global
levels in most of the ethnobiological sub disciplines; in the meth-
odological research standardization, in the combination of both
cultural and biological data, as well as in the availability and access
to online publications. However, its performance will depend
directly on the research question or the raised a priori hypothesis.
Therefore, we propose to design protocols in which it is established
that the data necessary for its application are available in the primary
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 133

The variables establishment must be focused on phenomena

explanation as a result of social-ecological characteristics and
interactions [12], in turn the variables are integrated by data
sets, which are the basis for the application, development and
success of the meta-analysis. However, primary information in
ethnobiology does not exclude methodological problems, as
seen in other areas [39, 41]. One of the main problems is its
origin, since these data come from both qualitative and quantita-
tive research, they have been obtained from multiple ethnographic
and biological methods, gathered from a variety of ethnographic
tools, analyzed or not by means of some statistical or multivariate

Box 3 Primary Information Selection Criteria and Meta-

Analysis Data Treatment:

I Primary information standardization: Set of key words [46], it is
possible to include the sets that are considered necessary
l Framing the discipline (e.g., ethnosciences)
l Defining the object of study (e.g., taxonomic group, ethnic group)
l Central research theme (e.g., traditional knowledge, classification
systems, traditional medicine, perception, management)
l Geographic scale (e.g., local, regional, global)
II Data heterogeneity: Analyzing the null hypothesis that the included
studies are evaluating the same effect
* Cochran Q: it is a nonparametric statistical test, which examines
whether k treatments have identical effects [50]
l I2: Provides a measure of the inconsistency degree in the studies’
results [38]
III Bias evaluation: The primary data contribution should preferably be
available in Web of Science [44]
l At indexed journals [43]
l Publications preferably in English because it is the universal
language of science [43]
l Gray literature inclusion (congresses, theses, briefs) can generate
biases in the conjunction of big-data [43]. However, it can be
considered as long as criteria are established for its inclusion and that
the necessary information is available in each one of the researches
l Availability of online publications
l That all the included studies have similar characteristics or that they
evaluate the same effect

Sometimes the variables can be integrated from the primary

information and in other occasions we could opt for their coding.
Therefore, variables may be numerical or categorical, dependent or
independent, depending on the trend used to evaluate. In the case
134 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

of categorical variables, these can be coded by assigning an ascend-

ing numerical value by importance of the subcategories that make
up the variable, where the values depend directly on the subcate-
gories amount; or by ordering them randomly or alphabetically. It
is important not to attribute more or less relevance to any subcate-
gory, in order to reduce the bias in the value assignment.
Despite the methodological problems that may arise during the
development of the meta-analytical approach in ethnobiology, the
benefits of its application are greater allowing for the establishment
of validated protocols, randomized and controlled trials, evaluation
of random data, sensitivity, and identification of heterogeneity
factors (biological, methodological, social, cultural, economic,
etc.) in the analysis [43]. It also allows for framing researches at
an a priori assumption or hypothesis, and that the studies are
replicable. It also contributes to the identification of information
gaps, consolidating the critical recommendations making in favor
of the maturation of ethno disciplines.
However, it should not be forgotten that the development of
the meta-analytic approach in ethnobiology is complex due to the
primary data nature, mainly because of the variety of methods
applied for its generation. Therefore, it is essential to recommend
the ethnobiological community to work under standardized meth-
ods in the generation of primary information, as well as to establish
research agendas and networks at a regional and international level.

3 Macro-Ethnobiology

The comparison at different spatiotemporal scales of social-

ecological relationships has theoretical and practical relevance for
ethnobiology. Its systematic study helps to understand the princi-
ples that underlie between human beings and their environment
[2], in addition to the increasing concern from ecologists, conser-
vation biologists, and macro-ecologists to integrate large-scale ana-
lyses of cultural, social, and economic factors [12], mainly to
evaluate the human impact and influence on biodiversity, and gen-
erate adequate conservation strategies [22, 28–30, 34, 51–55].
This approach has been addressed by crossing the boundaries
between natural and social sciences, through human macro-
ecology; focused on the study of the interactions between human
groups and the environment at different spatiotemporal scales,
which binds small-scale interactions by identifying emerging pat-
terns and their underlying processes; using the same macro-
ecological conceptual framework, its analytical rigor, methodologi-
cal approach, and technological tools [29, 30]. In turn, human
macro-ecology can use ethno biological concepts and data to
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 135

Fig. 2 Macro-ethnobiological approach spatiotemporal scales. (a) Space

(I. Global scale, II. Regional scale; and III Local scale). (b) Time (t ¼ present,
t ¼ past, +t ¼ future)

incorporate social-ecological factors in greater detail, making a

conjunction between both disciplines.
Therefore, we can talk about macro-ethnobiology just as long
as, besides being based on the principles of human macro-ecology,
its interest is to study the statistical properties of a great amount of
“ethnobiological particles” (ethnobiological data at a local level)
comparable at any level of organization [56]. Where the emergent
properties of the conjunction of a large number of “ethno
biological particles” are described in the large-scale analyses [57],
thus evaluating the complete system (Fig. 2).
Multispecific methods have been designed to understand the
processes behind the patterns. In addition, one of the current
prerogatives of macro-ecology is to create networks among
researchers [58] with the goal of developing methods and concepts
for evaluating macro-ecological patterns with current biotic and
abiotic conditions [57], emphasizing diversity analysis and its con-
servation [59] in which it is essential to include its relationship with
human groups [51]. This type of analysis is possible thanks to the
increase in data accumulation and informatics resources [60].
In the main, macro-ecology studies the patterns expressed by
ecological systems through extensive spatial and temporal scales, by
statistically analyzing the processes that determine these patterns
([56, 61–64]; Box 4), by emphasizing central points such as
(a) integration of the past to current macro-ecological patterns,
(b) explicit consideration of local patterns that lead to observed
large-scale patterns, (c) large-scale data dependence and their qual-
ity; and (d) statistical analysis sophisticated methods for explaining
the inherent bias in large-scale sampling [65].
136 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

From macro-ecological perspective, the influence of humans on

the environment, climatic changes produced by anthropogenic
activities; as well as biodiversity loss due to pollution, land use
practices, and ecosystem fragmentation have been studied
[30, 57]. Although there is a variety of macro-ecological
approaches, these studies do not explicitly distinguish human activ-
ities as processes that can give shape or cause patterns variation,
such omission can be an error [51]. Since in macro-ecology it has
been little studied, the influence of the environment on human
groups, the biotic and abiotic conditions of culture, society,
demography, health, or on the use of natural resources or at an
economic level [30] it is in here where linking with ethnobiology
can contribute significantly, by generating data on social-ecological
relationships at the local level.

Box 4 Macro-Ecology:
Macro-ecology studies the relationship between organisms and
their environment, characterizing and explaining organization
patterns such as distribution, abundance, and diversity; to ana-
lzse processes that occur at a regional, global, and/or temporal
level [61–63, 66–68]. It emphasizes its research in the quest for
emerging statistical patterns [29, 69, 70] seeks to deepen the
knowledge about the structure and functioning of ecological
systems [63] characterizing its study in two aspects: large scale
and multispecificity [65]. It is a discipline that answers hypoth-
eses about systems which are too large to be manipulated experi-
mentally [61] providing new knowledge and ways to understand
them [22, 30].
In its beginnings, macro-ecology based its research on the
correlative approach, associating a response variable (species
richness) and a predicting variable (environmental, geographic,
ecological variable, etc.). A clear example is the analysis of the
latitudinal gradient/species richness [29, 68, 69], the distribu-
tions of the ecological attributes as a way of understanding the
distributions causal processes [72] and the covariation among
attributes [61]. However, it is a discipline characterized by con-
stant revolutionizing without losing interest in determining eco-
logical patterns and the causal variables that generate them.
Currently, based on large datasets management, simulation
models and technological implementations have generated new
research trends, such as macro-evolution [73–75], application
and development of the niche concept [76–78], phylo-macro-
ecology [79], metabolic theories development [80], unifying
theory [81], beta diversity analyses [82, 83], and sustainability
and human macro-ecology [22, 30], among other approaches.
A broader understanding of macro-ecology, its objectives
and its methods helps to consider large-scale questions and

The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 137

Box 4 (continued)
research [84], responding every time to more complex ques-
tions, one of them being the contribution to one of the greatest
challenges of the twenty-first century, to ensure a sustainable
future for humanity, by combining cultural evolution as a main
human characteristic, related to the role of energy availability and
natural resources [29].
Macro-ecology is a discipline worldwide characterized for
having a great development, until reaching today’s situation
[65]. As a discipline that counts with more and more research
groups that contribute to its study, due to its spectacular advance
in the generation and availability of information [85]. Proposing
new research questions, advancing in the understanding of the
processes and mechanisms that underlie these patterns [29].

A macro-ethnobiological pattern recognized from the ethno-

biological framework and studied through human macro-ecology is
that of biocultural diversity, understood as the spatial
co-occurrence between the areas of greatest biological, cultural,
and linguistic richness, which are located in the intertropical region
throughout the planet [15–17, 55, 86–88]. This has allowed us to
identify that these regions have high levels of energy availability,
complying with the macro-ecological rule of productivity
[89]. Other macro-ethnobiological patterns, are the area–diversity
relationship; since it has been seen that the mountainous areas
harbor a high cultural diversity, areas that also have a high biological
diversity [15]; or the positive relationship between the regions size
(islands) and their linguistic variation [88] as a mechanistic phe-
nomenon in the geographical arrangement.
In order to develop the macro-ethnobiological approach it is
imperative to consider in its application the search for correspon-
dence with some of the macro-ecological rules, from the perspec-
tive that we wish to study.
Going into:
I. The species–area relationship, where a positive relationship is
established between the species richness and the area size;
II. The latitudinal and altitudinal gradients, in the first case we
have seen that there is a greater species richness in areas close to
the tropics, and in the second there is a greater diversity in the
near regions at sea level.
III. The species–diversity habitats relation, which assumes that the
more heterogeneous a region is, the greater the biological
diversity it will present.
IV. The biodiversity–productivity relationship, which proposes
that the most productive ecosystems will sustain greater
138 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

biological diversity; among other described macro-ecological

rules (Table 1).
This is possible by designing research to assess whether these
rules apply in social-ecological relationships.
Exploring if:
I. The bigger the area, the bigger the species use and knowledge.
II. If human groups include more biodiversity in their social-
ecological systems by getting closer to the intertropical zones.
III. If people use more resources at a lower altitude.
IV. If human groups in territories with larger environmental het-
erogeneity develop larger species use and knowledge.
V. If at more productive regions there is an increase in the tradi-
tional systems of biodiversity use and knowledge, among other
macro-ethnobiological patterns (Table 1).
It is important to consider that the suggested macro-
ethnobiological patterns are not always fulfilled in the same way
for all biological groups, since these in turn are determined by
macro-ecological patterns. The exploration of macro-
ethnobiological rules is necessary, through the establishment of
more specific investigations for each biological group and at differ-
ent spatial and temporal scales.
Proposing the hypothesis exploration as:
I. In the case of wild fauna there is a greater use of species in the
number of uses and parts used and their relation with size.
II. For edible fungi there is a greater diversity of species that are
harvested in temperate regions (pine, oak, mixed forests) com-
pared to tropical areas.
III. Wild flora species with medicinal and edible potential are those
that have been domesticated the most.
IV. Floristic species that show certain secondary compounds are
more likely to be part of social-ecological systems.
V. Large and medium-sized species have a greater number of uses
and parts used, than smaller ones.
In addition, social-ecological systems can be explored by add-
ing cultural, social, economic, and environmental variables.
Explaining phenomena like:
I. Human groups belonging to the same linguistic family (cul-
tural origin) possess greater similarity in their social-ecological
II. There are convergent patterns of traditional ecological systems
among culturally unrelated human groups, originated by the
biological characteristics of the species.
Table 1
Macro-ecological patterns and examples in which macro-ethnobiological approach research can be carried out

Macro-ecological Suggested macro-ethnobiological

pattern Description patterns Visualization
Species–area relation Species richness in an area is a The greater the cultural area, the
potential function of the area size greater biocultural diversity
(richness of known and used

Latitudinal gradient The greatest species richness is found Human groups established in the
in latitudes close to the equator, intertropical zone include greater
establishing that as we move away recognition and use of diversity in
(N/S) the wealth gradually their socioecological systems than
decreases those established in higher latitudes

Altitudinal gradient There is greater species diversity at Human groups use more resources
altitudes closer to sea level, when at lower altitude
decreasing as altitude increases
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . .

Table 1


Macro-ecological Suggested macro-ethnobiological

pattern Description patterns Visualization
Species–habitat diversity The greater the habitat diversity, the Human groups whose territories have
relation greater the species richness, a greater environmental
response to landscape heterogeneity heterogeneity will present greater
diversity of species use and

Biodiversity–productivity The higher the energy flow rate in a I. The areas with greatest biocultural
Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

relation system (productivity), the greater diversity are located in the areas
the biological diversity with the highest productivity on the
II. In regions with higher productivity
there is an increase in traditional
systems of knowledge and use of

Body size distribution More small body size species have There is a greater number of species
been described in relation to large with a cultural identifier in species
size species of medium and small size compared
to large size species
Species abundance Local species abundance increases I. Cultural recognition at the regional
distribution relation with wide distribution level increases with species
II. Species with restricted
distributions have a local cultural
III. Species with broad distribution
ranges have greater cultural
relevance than those with smaller or
restricted distribution
Species abundance–body Species abundance decreases with Species cultural assignment increases
size relation body mass among species within in relation to their body size
any great taxon

The original idea was designed by Stephens and collaborators [71], who explore the macro-ecological rules that operate for wild and parasitic species
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . .
142 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

III. Species traditional use and knowledge at ethnohistorical docu-

ments prevail at some regions in the present.
IV. Current macro-economy and globalization phenomena gener-
ate cultural homogenisation conditions.
V. Traditional social-ecological systems favor biodiversity
In addition to considering compliance with macro-ecological
rules, attention must be paid to the data set and the analysis vari-
ables. Macro-ecology bases its studies on geography and demogra-
phy, a link between these two variables is the correlation between
species diversity in the sites and the average range of species that
occur in there; reflecting mathematical and biological relationships,
being sites diversity and species distribution the fundamental pieces
[90]. Similar attributes are found in the ethnobiological data, tak-
ing as analysis units the species lists published in the ethnobiological
works, with which it is possible to generate incidence matrices
(presence–absence) constituting the integrating variables with
sites and species descriptors. Regarding the variables, environmen-
tal, geographical, and ecological variables can be used, to which
cultural, social, and economic variables can be added, taking care
that these are not correlated.
By combining data and variables from human macro-ecology, it
has been suggested to analyze patterns such as the energy exchange
between humans and the biophysical environment, human nutri-
tion ecology, life history, geographical space use, human population
structure, disease ecology, industrial and urban systems [30]. How-
ever, we still need to include some fundamental aspects such as the
traditional systems of knowledge, use and management of the
species, because it is considered that there is little information
about it; but these variables can be included from the macro-
ethnobiological perspective. As a central point of research, it con-
siders that the Earth’s most biodiverse areas are occupied by native
groups [15–17, 87].

4 Why Asking Research Questions for Meta-Analytical and Macro-Ethnobiological

Approach Development?

For the success and good development of the meta-analytical and

macro-ethnobiological approach, it is essential to draw a frame of
reference. This type of exercise has been applied in ecology by
seeking to list its main challenges and means to solve them
[91–93]. This is possible by highlighting key issues, designing a
series of questions that identify ethnobiological areas that have the
potential to significantly advance and provide a working agenda;
emphasizing that the main objective of these research approaches is
to determine processes, patterns, and variables of the relationships
The Spatiotemporal Scale of Ethnobiology: A Conceptual Contribution in the. . . 143

between human groups and biological diversity; analyzing the

influence of those relationships on ecosystems and species conser-
vation, and community development; integrating the ecological,
environmental, social, cultural, and economic problems.
The goal of designing a framework is to generate important
questions with answers for the different ethnobiological disciplines.
General and broad questions should be avoided; instead it is recom-
mended to develop questions that describe a challenge that can be
addressed with a focused and concentrated effort of a small group
of researchers or through a research program receiving adequate
financial support.
The proposal questions must be rigorous, democratic, and
transparent, without the aim of favoring a particular research
group, and lacking a desire to develop only one or another ethno-
biological discipline, as well as to choose to work with a specific
human group or geographic region. To carry out this process of
question development and selection, one could start, for example,
with a search for international authors inviting them to join a
collaborative working group. This search would focus on research-
ers who have a greater number of citations, the editors of important
journals in the area, as well as a representative from each of the
countries that have the greatest contributions to the discipline at an
international level. The search should be seeking a balanced repre-
sentation of researchers who work on different ethnobiological
It is also important to look for financing at institutional and
governmental levels, and also to establish collaborations with other
nonethnobiological disciplines with the purpose of creating a work-
ing group and collaborative networks that seek to promote meet-
ings in which the relevant topics and possible issues are discussed.
As well as the selection of thematic areas of predominant research
that reflect the ethnobiological context and that generate a critical
discussion about the possible results, in order to reformulate the
questions and approaches. The questions should take into consid-
eration their expected importance and impact. For example, nowa-
days some of the premises of ecology and ethnobiology are
conservation, sustainable management and development, and inte-
grating social actors. This is due to the fact that environmental and
cultural changes are strongly affecting local communities and
It is important to let the ethnobiological community know that
new research perspectives, in this case the meta-analytical and
macroethnobiological approach, are not proposed as new ethnobi-
ological subdisciplines. Rather, they seek to have a broader view of
the variables, processes, and patterns that are integrating the disci-
pline. Thus, conceptual and methodological gaps are explored,
designing inclusive research programs of a large scientific commu-
nity that significantly contributes to their scientific maturity
(Table 2).
144 Tania Vianney Gutiérrez-Santillán et al.

Table 2
Questions examples for meta-analytical and macro-ethnobiological approach

Focus Questions
Meta-analysis Is it possible, with the availability of “big-data” primary information, the development
of meta-analytical approach?
Does the meta-analysis application allow for the identification of information gaps?
Critically contributing to its scientific consolidation
Is a methodological standardization and a quantitative growth of ethnobiology
Which are the most culturally relevant species at a regional and global level?
What should be the central lines of research in ethnobiology, facing the accelerated
loss of biological and cultural diversity?
What is the difference in the discipline growth and maturation between the qualitative
and quantitative contributions?
Macro- What is the relationship between the biocultural diversity loss and the ecosystems
ethnobiology homogenization?
What is the effect of overexploitation of natural resources in the different indigenous
regions at a regional and global level?
Can biocultural patterns be identified by applying the macro-ethnobiological
Is the biodiversity management at indigenous regions optimal?
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Chapter 11

Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk

Perception Data
Henrique Fernandes Magalhães, Regina Célia da Silva Oliveira,
Ivanilda Soares Feitosa, and Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque

People perceive and represent the environment that surrounds them through physical, psychological, and
cultural filters, which enables them to understand the scenarios and environmental changes that occur in
their environment. Many of these changes, however, can be interpreted as potentially adverse situations,
that is, as risks. The analysis of risk perception can be a very useful tool in ethnobiological studies, in the
search for a better understanding of environmental problems perceived and faced locally. Different methods
and techniques can be used in the collection and analysis of environmental risk perception data. In this
chapter, we present the interview, the stimulus with drawings, participatory risk mapping and the richness
indexes and risk sharing perceived as resources that can be used to evaluate the environmental risks
perceived by a particular social group.

Key words Ethnobiology, Environmental risk perception, Data collection

1 Introduction

Human perception is responsible for the organization and interpre-

tation of reality by people, thus, they attribute meaning to their
environment. We perceive the environment through our senses.
The manner we perceive it, in turn, can be influenced by physical,
psychological [1] and cultural filters [2]. Thus, we move to the
concept of environmental perception that corresponds to the rep-
resentation that individuals make of their environment, which
allows them to understand the scenarios and environmental
changes that surround them [3].
Many of the environmental changes that people perceive can be
interpreted as potentially unfavorable or harmful circumstances,
which can be defined as risk [4]. Other definitions point to

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

150 Henrique Fernandes Magalhães et al.

environmental risk as the likelihood of adverse effects occurring as a

consequence of an environmental phenomenon [5–7]. Faced with
variations and connotations for the same term, it is important that
the researcher be careful to define well what he is considering as
environmental risk in his research.
In ethnobiological research, the analysis of risk perception
can be a very useful tool in the search for a better understanding
and search for solutions to problems perceived and faced locally
[4, 8]. In the collection and analysis of environmental risk percep-
tion data, different methods can be applied, depending on the
research objectives. In this chapter, we will detail some of these
methods, conceptualizing them and showing their applicability in
different types of environmental risk perception studies.

2 Methods of Data Collection and Analysis in Environmental Risk

Perception Research

2.1 Interviews One of the most commonly used techniques to access the local
perception of environmental risks is interviews [9, 10]. Among the
vast options of interviews, what is more frequently observed in
these types of studies are the semi-structured ones. They are
based on a script containing flexible questions, considering issues
that may arise during the interview [11]. This technique also
enables the informants to feel free to express themselves on their
own terms and according to their own convictions. However, the
researcher must be aware that the focus of research is not lost due to
this flexibility [11].
Although this method is performed face-to-face with the infor-
mant, and any questions can be clarified at the time, depending on
how the question is asked different interpretations may occur. For
example, if we ask the informants “How do you perceive and adjust
to climate change?” It may occur that they do not understand what
it is because of the way the question was elaborated. In this case,
they can take one of these two attitudes: answer that they do not
know, or that they do not understand.
In face of the situation reported above, the researcher must
rephrase the question so that it becomes clearer to the informant.
In some cases, they may act differently from these two situations,
trying to answer based on their understanding, which is often not
based on the full understanding of the issue of interest of the
Generally, the interviews feature two main sections. The first
one consists of socioeconomic information of the informants, such
as name, age, gender, profession, among others. The second part
Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk Perception Data 151

aims to identify the specific issues of the study, such as people’s

perception of environmental risk, what are the potential impacts
generated by these risks, how they can affect their daily activities,
and what measures do they take to adapt, or prevent locally per-
ceived risks [10]. Thus, people can inform the researcher about
their ways of managing risks according to the current climate,
which can be done, for example, by diversifying agricultural crops,
by cultivating the species that are more resistant to drought in times
of scarcity of rainfall, the use of irrigation to supply the water
demand of plantations [9], among others.

2.2 Stimulus The drawing stimulus method is a tool that can be used with people
with Drawings of different age groups. However, it is most commonly used to
integrate children into environmental risk perception studies, since
evidence indicates that in the face of extreme environmental
changes, such as drought and flooding, children are more exposed
and vulnerable to these risks [12]. In addition, drawing is consid-
ered a way of communicating and expressing feelings and a way of
representing how the individual perceives the events of the external
world [13, 14]. Therefore, through drawing, children can repre-
sent their understanding of the natural world, becoming an effec-
tive way of learning how disasters affect their lives, and how hazards
can be minimized [15, 16]. However, it is important to advise that
this method requires more time for execution, and a possible lack of
ability of children with drawing may be a limitation that must be
considered by the researcher [17].
In fact, the drawings are an important tool to access local
environmental perception and/or knowledge. However, there are
still a few studies that work with this perspective, and when it comes
to children, studies are still scarcer [15]. In addition, it is important
to note that compared to older generations, children may have a
more up-to-date view of local environmental conditions, and such
information may be useful to understand the current environmen-
tal reality compared to the past [16].
As an example, we present the study of Taylor and Peace [15] in
Indonesia. Among multiple methods, the authors used the design
to assess children’s perception of risk and their ability to respond to
flood impacts (Box 1). Taylor and Peace [15] noted that children
presented their own ideas and perspectives for action in the face of
environmental risks, suggesting that the drawing can provide
important information about children’s resilience to environmental
152 Henrique Fernandes Magalhães et al.

Box 1 Steps, with Adaptations, Used by Taylor and Peace

[15] to Access the Environmental Perception of Children
and Understand How They Act in the Face of Flood Events
in the Local Community:
Phase 1
Elaboration of key questions to direct the children at the moment of the research
that are directly related to the objective of the research.
Phase 2: Environmental risk perception
“How do you see the floods here in the community (. . .)”
“Draw on the flood that occurs here in the community (. . .)”
Phase 3: Perception on the adaptation on the perceived risk
“What do you know about flood prevention (. . .)”
“What do you do during floods (. . .)”
“What prevents you from doing this action (. . .)”

Pellier et al. [16] indicated that, through drawings, children

were able to convey their perceptions about current and future
environmental conditions. Children can also make associations on
local fauna and flora conditions that are useful in studies aimed at
sustainable management of natural resources in the face of global
environmental change (see [16]). Thus, for a better understanding
of how to direct and analyze information obtained in this type of
study, in Box 2 we present a hypothetical case, elaborated from an
adaptation of the methodology used by Silva et al. [17] in a study of
environmental perception with children.

Box 2 Steps to Analyze the Contents of the Drawings,

Adapted from Silva et al. [17]:
Consider the Fig. 1 as example, and see the steps described below:
(a) Create categories to analyze the information contained in the
drawings, for example, category to insert biotic and abiotic components;
(b) Create category for perceived risk evidenced by the child, for example,
deforestation caused by the human being;
(c) Count of each element contained in the drawing and subsequent
grouping in their respective categories;
(d) The researcher may choose to see the frequency of citation by gender,
age, schooling and/or comparison of different communities. This step
will depend on the guiding question of the study.

2.3 Incidence An approach to quantitatively assess risks is through the application

and Severity of some techniques proposed in the literature. In this topic, we will
of the Perceived Risk discuss Participatory Risk Mapping (PRM), a method originally
developed by Smith et al. [4] and then adapted by Baird et al.
[19] that is used to access the perception of environmental risks.
Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk Perception Data 153

Fig. 1 Illustration of the environmental reality related to the local flora, made by a child from a rural community
near the Chapada Diamantina National Park, Bahia, Brazil. Adapted from Oliveira et al. [18]

In relation to other methods used for this same purpose, PRM has
the advantage of being a very precise method in its application,
which facilitates the identification and classification of the factors
that cause the risks perceived by the people [20]. The PRM also
allows the researcher to evaluate the potential that a certain risk has
of affecting people’s way of life [8].
First, the researcher should ask through interviews that people
name the risks they perceive. Soon after, people are invited to sort
and classify the risks they cited according to the level of impact they
cause in their lives, which Smith et al. [4, 21] names severity. A great
advantage of the PRM is that it allows people themselves to decide
which risks most affect their quality of life [4, 19, 21], that is, the
researcher does not influence the responses of the informants.
As researchers, we should pay attention to two situations that
may occur when people classify risk: different people may use differ-
ent terms for the same risk [4, 21]; and the same person can cite
more than one factor causing a certain risk [20, 22]. In this case,
some questions such as “In which situation can this risk occur?” and
“How can this risk be avoided?” can help us to obtain more accurate
answers, which will facilitate the subsequent classification of risks.
Subsequently, the researcher should measure the frequency
with which the risk is perceived and identified, and the risks that
are perceived as more serious, respectively: risk incidence (I) and
severity index (S). If the researcher decides to adopt the model of
Smith et al. [4] in the study, they should classify the risks according
154 Henrique Fernandes Magalhães et al.

to the severity attributed by the informant, representing them by

numbers on a decreasing scale (the number 1 represents the most
serious risk, number 2, the second most serious risk; and so on).
Soon after, people should be encouraged to present ways of resolv-
ing or mitigating each of the cited and classified risks (adaptive
strategies). The proportion of people who identified a source
of risk will correspond to the incidence index (Ij), which will be
calculated by the equation Ij ¼ nr/nj, where nr represents the
number of times the risk was cited, and nj represents the total
number of informants. The values of I represent the risk dimension
in the context of the studied population, and can vary from 0 (lower
frequency of citations) to 1 (all interviewees cited).
The Severity Index (S) represents the number and classification of
risk factors cited by each person, and its value can vary from 1 (most
severe) to 2 (less severe). Sj is calculated by the equation Sj ¼ 1 + (r – 1)/
(n – 1), where r represents the risk classification based on the order
indicated by the informant, and n represents the number of risk
factors cited by the people. After completing the calculation, we will
have: the most severe risk (r ¼ 1) for Sj ¼ 1; the least severe risk
(r ¼ n > 1) for Sj ¼ 2; and the remaining risks for equally distributed
intermediate amounts. In Box 3, we present a hypothetical example
of the calculation of severity index (S) and risk incidence (I).

Box 3 Hypothetical Example of Calculation of Severity Index

(S) and Risk Incident (I ), According to Smith et al. [4]:

Informants Classification (r) Risk factors number (n) Sj
I 1 Food scarcity 4 1
2 Water shortage 1.33
3 Agricultural pests 1.66
4 Lack of sanitation 2
II 1 Lack of sanitation 2 1
2 Water shortage 2
III 1 Food scarcity 3 1
2 Water shortage 1.5
3 Lack of sanitation 2
Risk factors Severity index (S) Risk incidence (I)
Food scarcity 1 0.66
Water shortage 1.61 1
Lack of sanitation 1.66 1
Agricultural pests 1.66 0.33
Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk Perception Data 155

After calculating the two measures, they can be combined to

compose a third index: Total Risk (R), represented by the equation
Rαβ ¼ αI/βS, where α represents the value of the Incidence Index,
and β corresponds to the value of Severity Index. It is interesting to
note that, if α ¼ 1 and β ¼ 1, we would have the measure repre-
sented by the formula R11 ¼ I/S, which represents a variance from
0 (zero incidence) to 1 (most severe risk).
In case the PRM model modified by Baird et al. [19] is applied,
the calculation of the incidence index (Ii) will follow the same steps
as the original model proposed by Smith et al. [4], as we have
discussed earlier. The difference is in the calculation of the severity
index (Sj), which should be calculated in two steps. First, the
researcher has to obtain the individual value of the risk severity
index (Rij), whose formula is Rij ¼ 1 – rij - 1/ni, where nj repre-
sents the total number of risks (nj) mentioned by each informant
(i), while r represents the classification of each risk individually.
Then, all the results found individually for Rij should be summed
and divided by the number of times the risk was cited as the most
severe (Nj). Thus, we obtain the severity index, by the equation
Sj ¼ ∑i  1Nj ¼ 1  Rij / Nj. In this model, Sj has values between
0 (risks that are not considered severe) and 1 (severe risks).
The results can be represented by means of a risk map, which is
a graph that allows the researcher to determine the space and the
distribution of the incidence and severity of the risk. For this
purpose, the PRM according to Baird et al. [19] is recommended,
since the type of classification of the severity index (Sj) used in this
model, as we have discussed in the previous paragraph, facilitates
both the elaboration process and the interpretation of risk maps
[19]. As a practical example, we present below (Fig. 2) an environ-
mental risk map model developed with data obtained from a study
implemented in a rural community in the Brazilian Northeast [23].
In the Fig. 2, we observe the following: two risks considered by
the population as severe, but not as incidents (lack of religiosity,
unemployment); one risk perceived locally as severe and incidental
(drought); risks that are not considered severe or incidental (vio-
lence, native flora decreases, wildlife decreases, agricultural pests);
and, finally, a risk perceived as an incident, but not as severe (soil
nutrient deficiency).
In ethnobiological studies, risk mapping can be very useful, for
example, to evaluate the risk factors that can affect the way of life of
people living in areas of socio-environmental conflicts. In addition,
they may also assist in the identification of social groups or strata
that perceive certain environmental risks as more severe [20].

2.4 Richness Originally, the knowledge wealth index (KWI) and the knowledge
and Sharing sharing index (KSI) emerged as a suggestion for a new quantitative
of Perceived Risks simple measure, focused on the people and the knowledge they
have, and in the sharing and uniqueness of the information
156 Henrique Fernandes Magalhães et al.

1 RL







0.1 NRF
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1

Fig. 2 Example of perceived environmental risk map (RL religiosity, UE unemployment, DROUGHT—uncon-
trolled drought/winter/absence of rain/low rainfall, IVC insecurity/violence/crime, YPW young people who do
not want to work, WR wildlife reduction, WC warm climate, NFR native flora reduction, PLG plagues, and PNS
soil poor in nutrients). Source: Oliveira et al. [23]

obtained [24]. Thus, these measures allow the researcher to make

decisions and test hypotheses about the distribution of knowledge
in a community, as well as estimate the richness and sharing of
information among people [24], considering the similarity between
people within the same social group [23]. On this topic, we will
discuss the use of richness and sharing of perceived risks indexes,
adapted by Oliveira et al. [23] from the model proposed by Araújo
et al. [24].
The KWI represents a distance measure whose values range
from 0 to infinity. The lower the KWI value, the greater the
perceived risks and the corresponding adaptive strategies cited by
the informants [23]. This relation is determined by the equation
KWIi ¼ 1/∑Ji2, in which Ji ¼ Pi/Ci.Pi:Pi represents the number of
risks and adaptive strategies cited by each participant; and Ci repre-
sents the total adaptive risks and strategies cited by the local com-
munity. In order to simplify these calculations, we recommend,
following Araújo et al. [24], that more than one informant is
interviewed for each house, considering that the family is the
sample unit of the research.
The KSI is also a measure of distance, and its values can vary
from 0 to 1. The index is expressed by the equation KSI ¼ KWIi/
KWImax, where KWIi represents the degree of information sharing
between each participant, and KWImax represents the degree of
information sharing among components of the local community
in question [24]. The lowest degree of sharing is represented by the
value 1.
Collection and Analysis of Environmental Risk Perception Data 157

In order to facilitate the analysis of the data obtained, we

recommend that they are organized into categories. As an example,
we present the study by Oliveira et al. [23] who chose to organize
their data into two categories: environmental risk perception, which
included the perceived risks related to environmental changes; and
sociocultural risk perception, which encompassed the perceived risks
related to the impacts of environmental changes on people’s liveli-
hoods (Box 4).

Box 4 Forms of Perceived Risk Categorization, by Oliveira

et al. [23]:

Perceived risks
Number of
Categories Sub-categories citations
Environmental Climatic phenomena 54
risk perception Drought/absence of rain/uncontroled
(n ¼ 7) winter/long summer
Warmer climate
Population abundance (fauna/ flora) 27
Native flora reduction
Native flora growth
Wildlife reduction
Soil quality 30
Soil poor in nutrients
Agriculture 2
Sociocultural risk Sociocultural 9
perception Insecurity/violence/crime
(n ¼ 5) Young people unmotivated to work in
the field
Weakened health
Religiousness (lack of faith, lack of
commitment to the church)

In the study exemplified above, Oliveira et al. [23] assessed the

relationship between the degree of religiosity/spirituality of a rural
population in the Brazilian Northeast and the richness and sharing
of locally perceived risks, and the adaptive strategies developed. In
order to test this relationship, the authors used generalized linear
models (GLM) with Gaussian distribution, where the values
obtained for degrees of religiosity/spirituality were used as explan-
atory variables and the measures of richness index and index of
perceived risk sharing—and of adaptive strategies—were used as
response variables. As a result, the authors did not find a significant
relationship between the degree of religiosity/spirituality and rich-
ness and risk sharing, and with adaptive strategies [23].
158 Henrique Fernandes Magalhães et al.

The same methodology used by Oliveira et al. [23] can be

applied in any ethnobiological study that aims to evaluate the
relationship between any explanatory variable (level of schooling,
for example) and the richness and sharing of locally perceived risks.
Thus, the use of KWI and KSI in ethnobiological studies can be
very useful to obtain information about how richness and the
sharing of information—in our case, risk perception—arise among
families, communities and/ or different social groups [24].


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Part III

Methodological and Theoretical Challenges

Chapter 12

Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical

and Methodological Contributions
Julio A. Hurrell, Pablo C. Stampella, Marı́a B. Doumecq,
and Marı́a L. Pochettino

This chapter is a contribution to current ethnoecology from a complex perspective, through a revision of
the presuppositions that constitute its theoretical–methodological framework. The systemic approach of
ecology understood as a science of synthesis based on relationships between the organism and its environ-
ment is discussed. The complex thinking applied to biocultural ecology, based on the relationships between
the people and their environment is also discussed, including a reflection about the dissociation between
nature and culture, and its conceptual implications. Ethnoecology as the study of local people knowledge
system about their own relationships with their environment poses a discussion on sciences and ethnos-
ciences, and its relationships with ecology and biocultural ecology. The reflection about the relationships
between the observer and the observed people implies a discussion upon the researcher’s presence in his
own research, and how he manages his thinking categories. The role of interviews as communication
systems in which the generated knowledge is embodied in actions (discourses and behaviors) is revalued.
Ultimately, three cases for the Rio de la Plata riverside (Buenos Aires province, Argentina) are presented.
These cases illustrate how the local people identify and value the environmental changes in the pluricultural
contexts of the urban areas, and how the obtained results have meaning in the theoretical–methodological
framework developed. In conclusion, complex thinking allows us to construct adequate explanations for
complex phenomena that ethnoecology tries to explain, and to avoid reductionisms.

Key words Ethnoecology, Complexity, Presuppositions, Local knowledge system, Environmental

changes, Rı́o de la Plata Riverside, Argentina

1 Introduction

This chapter includes the theoretical–methodological framework of

a research line in ethnoecology that is developed by the Laboratorio
de Etnobotánica y Botánica Aplicada (LEBA), Facultad de Ciencias
Naturales y Museo (FCNM), Universidad Nacional de La Plata
(UNLP), Argentina. The research line is supported by studies
carried out for the past 30 years in different sectors belonging to
Rı́o de la Plata region, oriented towards the understanding and

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

164 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

valorization of local environmental changes, according to the stud-

ied people knowledge system. The theoretical–methodological
framework is defined, and some illustrative cases that link the
research line theory and practice are discussed. We support the
idea that the research theoretical–methodological framework is
the context in which the research results acquire meaning, and in
this sense the researchers must be explicit about their own presup-
positions (i.e., knowledge tacitly assumed beforehand at the begin-
ning of an argument line). For the research line context, we analyze
the basic presuppositions about ecology, biocultural ecology, and
ethnoecology, including the researcher’s role in the research
In his book Mind and nature: A necessary unity, Gregory
Bateson said: “Science, like art, religion, commerce, warfare, and
even sleep, is based on ‘presuppositions’. It differs, however from
most other branches of human activity in that not only are the
pathways of scientific thought determined by the presuppositions
of the scientists but their goals are the testing and revision of old
presuppositions and the creation of new. In this latter activity, it is
clearly desirable (but not absolutely necessary) for the scientist to
know consciously and be able to state his own presuppositions. It is
also convenient and necessary for the scientific judgment to know
the presuppositions of colleagues working in the same field. Above
all, it is necessary for the reader of scientific matter to know the
presuppositions of the writer (. . .) I believe in the importance of
scientific presuppositions, in the notion that there are better and
worse ways of constructing scientific theories, and in insisting on
the articulate statement of presuppositions so that they may be
improved” [1].

2 Theoretical–Methodological Framework

2.1 Ecology In its broadest sense, ecology is the science that studies the complex
set of relationships between organisms and their environments
[2, 3]. This definition implies a complex thinking [4] because
both organisms and environments are systems whose relationships
define a higher level system (“organism–environment”). In this
sense, the word system refers to a “whole” in which it is possible
to distinguish “parts” or “elements” related to each other in some
way. In this respect, Ramón Margalef remarked: “In the study of all
systems, the knowledge of the relationships between the interacting
elements is more important than the exact nature of these elements,
which are studied by other sciences that explains their characteris-
tics in terms of the relationships between components of a lower
order” [5]. For the organisms (a part of the whole), the “other
science” is biology, that studies the living systems, their origin,
characteristics, and evolution. Ecology is a science of synthesis, a
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 165

broad platform where both biology and the physical environment

sciences acquires a complex meaning, especially considering the
evolutionary process that as Margalef said: “does not develop in
the emptiness” [5].
From the origin of the General Systems Theory, at the 1940s,
the notion of system became a transdisciplinary tool that aims at a
“science of the whole,” a concept many times considered vague,
misty, and semi-metaphysical [6]. The Aristotelian axiom: “the
whole is more than the sum of its parts,” implies that the system
presents emerging properties (the properties of the whole), different
from the separately considered parts properties. In ecology, this
currently rooted conception has abolished the already old and
reductionist definition of ecosystem as a sum of the biotic commu-
nity (biocenosis) and the physical environment (biotope) [7]. How-
ever, this triumph of complexity over simplicity inside the scientific
domain has not yet taken root in the ecology teaching at some
educational levels: the equation “ecosystem ¼ biocenosis + biotope”
is still taught. This simplifying ecosystem notion is a trivialization of
the original concept of Arthur G. Tansley, who in 1935 defined the
ecosystem as: “The global system (. . .) which includes not only the
set of organisms, but also the complete set of physical factors, which
constitute what we call ‘environment’ (. . .) It is not possible to
separate the organisms from their environment with which they
constitute a unique system (. . .) It is a system that formed in this
way constitutes the basic unit of Nature” [8].
Towards the 1970s, biology has provided a new vision about
living beings based on autopoiesis theory [9], in which organisms
are considered as systems defined by their singular capacity to build
themselves. This self-production is possible only if the living system
is related to what surrounds it, because those relationships make
possible the necessary exchanges of matter, energy, and informa-
tion. Thus, by virtue of such exchanges the organism is a thermo-
dynamically open system that organizes itself (self-organization) at
the expense of generate information (a certain order), opposite
concept to entropy (disorder). The introduction of these notions
coming from other scientific domains, especially from the informa-
tion theory and the thermodynamics of far from equilibrium sys-
tems, into ecology is due to the intellectual effort of Ramón
Margalef [2, 3, 10–14]. As Edgar Morin said, the complexity of
the living systems lies in the fact that organism organizes itself and,
at the same time, depends on its own environment. The apparently
contradictory concept of self-eco-organization has a new meaning in
the context of a system that encompasses both an organism and its
environment [15]. “It is not possible to separate the organisms
from their environment,” as Tansley said [8].
In current ecology, the concept of environment has at least two
meanings. On the one hand, it refers to the set of physical variables
(the environment as a physical space). On the other hand, the
166 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

environment also includes other organisms of the same species or

others, with which the organism (considered as the reference sys-
tem) also exchanges matter, energy, and information [16]. From
the perspective of the complex thinking, the environment thus
defined should not be reduced to the physical environment. Like-
wise, in its complex sense before delineated, an organism specifies
its environment through its interactions with other living systems
and the physical conditions. Life not only depends on the physical
parameters but also modifies and reconfigures them. In his book
Leben und Umwelt, from the early 1940s, August F. Thienemann
argues that life (Leben) and its surrounding world (Umwelt) define
one another and constitute a “unity.” Following these arguments,
the organism lives in its environment, does not live in an environ-
ment (as an independent instance from the organism). Going a step
further, it is possible to affirm that when an organism dies, its
environment dies with it [17, 18]. The statement of Gregory
Bateson: “If the organism ends up destroying its environment, it
has in fact destroyed itself” [19] acquires a renewed relevance. If in
a system one part destroys the other, the whole system disappears.
This discussion is inscribed in contexts of change: the organis-
m–environment system is dynamic, it changes over time, and it
evolves. Thereby, this system constitutes not only the ecological
unit but also the evolutionary one, that is, the survival unit [19]. In
the ecology framework, as Margalef explains, evolution goes
beyond the scope of the species level (neo-Darwinian evolution)
[20]. In accord with Jordi Flos: “Definitely, the adaptability of one
single species goes through its success in collaboration with the
construction and maintenance of a system, in which the internal
flow of information is maximized” [12]. Maximizing system infor-
mation implies increasing its organization and complexity.

2.2 Biocultural The concept of organism–environment system defines the ecology

Ecology domain in its most general sense. But if the organism studied is
human beings, we have entered into a more specific ecological
2.2.1 People and Their
domain, the so-called biocultural ecology, that is, the scientific
study of complex relationships between people and their environ-
ment [17, 21–23]. The term biocultural comes from the concept of
biocultural diversity, which is understood as the diversity of life both
in its biological dimension (organisms, species, communities, eco-
systems) and in its cultural dimension (knowledge, beliefs, lan-
guage, practices). These dimensions are not separated, nor do
they transit parallel paths; on the contrary, they interact in many
complex ways, and coevolve [24, 25]. It is relevant to highlight that
the concept of coevolution is resonant with the idea about the
organism–environment system evolution. In fact, the organism
and its environment (the survival unit) “do not cross at infinity,”
they go “together.” The integrating vision based on the relations
between people and their environment (the environment that we
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 167

people identify as our, through our interactions), both natural and

cultural, would allow to overcome the old dichotomy between
nature and culture as dissociated scenarios.
However, this non-dissociation that supports the theory does
not always translate into the practice sphere. In the scientific
domain, we often fall into the “temptation” of the simplification
and we declare into theory that we accept the non-dissociation, but
in practice we analyze natural and cultural variables separately. This
contradiction (more frequent than it seems), which is relatively easy
to understand insofar as our current way of thinking, still has deep
roots in the old simplicity paradigm. As Morin said: “An illusion
keeps people away from the complex thinking: believing that com-
plexity leads to the elimination of simplicity. By the way, the com-
plexity appears where the simplicity fails (. . .) While the simplified
thinking disintegrates complexity, the complex thinking integrates
as much as possible the simplifying ways of thought, but rejects
their blinding and reductionists consequences” [4].

2.2.2 Nature and Culture If complex thinking integrates concepts that the simplified thinking
dissociates (e.g., through system notion), we have to say that if
biocultural ecology is a particular kind of ecology, the systemic
principles of ecology also must be applied to biocultural ecology.
In this frame, we must assume that people (ourselves) are organisms
that live in our environment (not an environment), and as such, we
are systems. As a reflection, Morin warns us: “Since Darwin we
admit that we are sons of primates, but not that we ourselves are
primates. We are convinced that once we descended from the
tropical genealogical tree of which our ancestors are part of, and
since then we have moved away from it forever, and we have built,
regardless of nature an independent kingdom of culture” [26]. This
simplified thought separates us from our own biology and our
environment, and it immerses ourselves into the antinomy “nature
versus culture.” The argument is dangerous: if nature is alien to us,
we are enabled to subdue it, conquer it, to appropriate it. Against
this way of thinking, Morin argues: “Man is a cultural being by
nature, because he is a natural being by culture” [26]. For people,
the positions that tend to dissociate nature and culture, as well as
those that tend to integrate them, they have meaning in the context
of our own particular culture. “Man is a cultural being by nature”
because the culture is our human nature. Besides, “man is a natural
being by culture” because we conceptualize our nature from our
cultural background [4, 26]. Regarding nature and culture, we can
start either with a concept that favors dissociation or with one that
favors integration, and our explanatory models will be consistent
with each starting point [17]. For the biocultural context, the
dissociation between nature and culture has no meaning.
The field of biocultural ecology, as noted above, supposes the
broader context of ecology: if we (people) destroy our
168 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

environment, we destroy ourselves. In this sense, we have to ask:

What conceptions about “nature” and “culture” guide the strate-
gies of environmental planners and conservationists? The idea that
we can appropriate nature (as a set of available resources) is based
on the nature–culture dissociation: we can appropriate something
when that something is alien to ourselves. This position (that we
could call against nature) opposes the other, the more romantic:
“the humanity must return to nature” (against culture position).
We must ask ourselves: When we have abandoned nature? This
position reminds us the one mentioned by writer Michel Houelle-
becq: “. . . the curse of the tourist that desperately searches
unspoiled places (without tourists) that his mere presence discredits,
and be pushing himself to go more and more far in an increasingly
useless project (...) hopeless situation, as that of man trying to
escape of his own shadow” [emphasis added] [27]. In this case,
an integrating approach is healthier.
On this issue, it is important to reflect about our reference
theoretical framework (our starting point). If we start from distinct
bases, even using the same procedures, we will obtain different
conclusions. Bateson said: “In fact, the problem of how to transmit
our ecological reasoning to those whom we wish to influence in
what seems to us to be an ecologically ‘good’ direction is itself an
ecological problem. We are not outside the ecology for which we
plan, we are always and inevitably a part of it” [19]. It is time to
assume that we need complex reformulations for complex phenom-
ena. Otherwise, our explanations would become reductionist
[4, 28, 29].

2.3 Ethnoecology The word ethnoscience appeared in 1950, in the book Outline of
Cultural Materials, by George Murdock, but the first formal defi-
2.3.1 Science and
nition would just emerge a decade later [30]. In the 1960s, the
anthropologist William Sturtevant wrote “. . . a survey and explica-
tion of a new approach in ethnography. . .” [31], called new ethnog-
raphy or ethnoscience. The prefix ethno (from the Greek εθνoς,
“people” or “nation”) has for Sturtevant a new meaning: “is to
be understood in a special sense, it refers to the system of knowl-
edge and cognition typical of a given culture” [31]. As Alves and
Albuquerque said, it has been a new approach “. . .through which
cultures were no longer seen as collections of artifacts and beha-
viors, but began to be considered as systems of knowledge. . .” [32]
The conceptualization of knowledge as a system that gives meaning
to its contents implied a step forward for the understanding of
complexity in ethnoscience.
The knowledge system is necessarily local, because people live
in their own local environment, the one that people identify as
theirs through their interactions, as discussed before. In this com-
plex sense, environment includes other people, other kind of living
systems, and the physical environment, and it should be considered
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 169

“natural and cultural” at a time. On these bases, biocultural ecology

must be considered the science that studies the relationships
between people and their environment from the researcher’s per-
spective, whose knowledge system (it is assumed) corresponds to
the scientific knowledge. Moreover, ethnoecology must be consid-
ered the ethnoscience that studies the knowledge systems of local
people about their own relationships with their environment. In
this definition, the term local is posed in its complex sense, based on
the relationships between people and their natural–cultural envi-
ronment as an explanatory core. In terms of Nazarea, it is the
situated knowledge of people who participate in a net of relation-
ships located in time and space [33]. Outside this context, the
adjective local had usually been employed as a replacement to
avoid other qualifiers, such as “traditional,” “indigenous,” and
“native,” among others, that present significant definition pro-
blems, especially in the case of the widespread term “traditional”
[32, 34].
The distinction between science and ethnoscience (e.g., “bio-
cultural ecology” and “ethnoecology,” respectively) is based on its
object of study, that is, the phenomena to be explained (“relation-
ships” in the first case, “knowledge systems”—that emerges from
those relationships—in the second). In no case does this distinction
imply that the so-called ethnosciences are not sciences. In fact, the
methods and techniques of ethnosciences are no different from
those of ethnography, the scientific domain from which ethnosci-
ence has emerged. In terms of the approaches, the ethnoscientific
one allows for a dialogue with the non-ethnoscientific approaches
within science, which would be desirable to occur more frequently.
In this very scenario: “. . . a more recently accepted interpretation is
that ethnoscientific procedures should be seen as scientific proce-
dures that aim to describe and analyze the local knowledge, and
occasionally to establish comparisons and articulations with that
knowledge which is practiced and accepted in the academy” [32].

2.3.2 Disciplinary Current science is often subdivided into disciplines and subdisci-
Complexity plines with more and more specific objectives in relation to an
increasing specialization path, what could become an excessive
atomization (simplicity paradigm). However, when phenomena to
be explained are complex, such as ecological or anthropological
ones, it is necessary to provide explanations that avoid reductionism
(complexity paradigm). Likewise, in relation to the specialization,
anthropologist Marc Augé warns that: “[the duality] between the
disciplines themselves and the terrains to which they apply (...)
present a certain ambiguity, since one can ask whether it is the
specific nature of the terrains that allows the specificity of the
disciplines, or whether, conversely, it is the procedures that con-
struct the terrains to which they apply” [35].
170 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

The complexity has entered this scenario by the hand of inter-

disciplinarity and transdisciplinarity that try to establish exchanges
between isolated disciplines. Interdisciplinarity implies that disci-
plines interact and obtain mutual benefits, although without losing
their individuality. Transdisciplinarity implies by the way a higher
level of disciplinary integration, in which the disciplines’ frontiers
become diluted within a broader context [36]. Ecology, as a science
of synthesis [5], is a transdisciplinary field that integrates elements
from various sources, and whose contents are relevant not only for
ecology but also for other sciences [17].
In this framework, what could be valid for ecology could be
valid for ethnoecology too. Marques considers, for example, that
ethnoecology is “. . . the transdisciplinary field of scientific research
that studies the thoughts (knowledge and beliefs), feelings and
behaviors that mediate the interaction between the human popula-
tions (...) and the remaining elements of the ecosystems. . .”
[32, 37] The author also indicates that it is necessary to recognize
ethnoecology “. . . as a field of knowledge intersection (at least an
interdisciplinary field and not just one more discipline)” [emphasis
added] [32, 37]. The path from interdisciplinarity to transdiscipli-
narity shows the increasing need for a more complex perspective.
Instead, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are synonymous
for other authors. This seems to be the case of Ruiz-Mallén and
others: “Ethnoecology is the interdisciplinary study—from a par-
ticularly local perspective—of the dynamic relations between
human beings and the environment in which they live. . .” But at
once, the same authors argue: “Ethnoecological studies hold a
transdisciplinary perspective based on contributions made by natu-
ral and social sciences on different levels” [38]. For other authors,
“Ethnoecology is the interdisciplinary study of the knowledge
systems, practices, and beliefs of different human groups about
their environment” [39–41]. Also, these consider that “transdisci-
plinary research” can be seen as the integration of both scientific
and local knowledge systems. Angelstam and others state: “This
form of research is based on the integration of multiple disciplines
and the active inclusion and participation of stakeholders represent-
ing different societal sectors in the processes of problem formula-
tion, knowledge production, and learning” [42]. In a commitment
to complexity, Moraes and others add that ethnoecologists should
recognize: “The importance of the interdisciplinary training and
the development of a common language that allows communica-
tion between scientists of diverse disciplines, working in different
contexts and cultures” [41]. Furthermore, with regard to the nat-
ure–culture complex and the local knowledge evolutionary value,
they comment: “. . . the new millennium saw a turn in the way of
conceiving the local knowledge systems about the environment,
which became conceptualized as complex forms of adaptation to
the environment, result of the coevolutionary dynamics of nature
and culture” [41].
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 171

2.4 Observer and For ethnoecologists, the phenomenon to explain is the local knowl-
Observed People edge of the people considered as reference, the so-called observed
people [32]. As we said, this knowledge refers to the relationships
between local people and their natural–cultural environment, the
one that the very people specify for the fact alone of living in it. The
experience of the observed people in their environment is the basis
from which the knowledge about their own experiences emerges.
The knowledge (information, ideas, thoughts, feelings, beliefs)
arises from the relationships that people experience. Once emerged,
knowledge guides actions (verbal and nonverbal language, behavior
patterns, practices, exchanges, selective strategies that become
adaptive). In this sense, knowledge is embodied in actions
[17, 43]. In turn, these actions feed-back on the knowledge that
generated them, generating new knowledge that guide new
actions, and thus recursively (The mechanism is a cybernetic regu-
lation circuit based on the feedback notion, it is not a causal linear
process of deterministic type.) [21, 22, 44]. Thus, the local knowl-
edge system is a dynamic unit that changes over time in an adaptive
sense, and the people–environment system evolves as a whole. In
communicational terms, the relationships between people and their
environment are the context in which the knowledge acquires
meaning, and knowledge is the context in which actions acquire
For the simplicity paradigm the observer (i.e., the researcher) is
independent of the observed system (an observer absent from his
own observation). In this framework, as cyberneticist Heinz von
Foerster stated, the observer must meet an agreed requirement: his
properties (experiences, meanings, interpretations) should not
enter the description of his observations [45]. The author com-
ments: “This attitude is clearly expressed in a style of scientific
writing in which the author says: It can easily be demonstrated, or
It is observed, rather than ‘I’ could easily demonstrate, or ‘You’ could
observe, if you are interested (. . .) the problem of science is the
illusion of being able to make affirmations with independence of
the observer” [45]. For the complexity paradigm the observer is a
constituent part of a system—the so-called observant system—that
also includes the observed system, with which the observer interacts
in different ways. The systemic principles that we apply to people in
relation to their environment must apply to the observer who (such
as any of us) cannot dissociate from his own environment,
which includes the observed people with whom he interacts. The
relationships between the observer and the observed people are
the experiential context of the observer in which the knowledge
emerge, and embodied in the observer actions.
On the way to a complex thinking, we must assume that the
researcher is in fact present, and intervenes in the research process
that he himself designs and develops based on his own decisions.
172 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

The researcher must choose the theoretical–methodological frame-

work (which unfortunately is not always explicit) [16] because this
is the context in which the proposed research has meaning. Like-
wise, the researcher selects the people–environment system whose
knowledge he intends to explain, according to the proposed objec-
tives. He is also present when selecting the informants or intervie-
wees according to the criteria established by him or by other
researchers that he intends to follow, when deciding on the appro-
priate methods and techniques suited to his purposes, and when
adjusting those methods and techniques to the surveyed people
particularities [46–49]. When the research process is finished, the
researcher becomes visible when presenting his work results. It is
relevant to highlight that in the simplicity paradigm the researcher
becomes visible only when the research ends, and from the
research’s beginning and during its development, the researcher
believes that he is absent (invisible). This is a kind of reductionism
because the invisible researcher works as a trivial machine [45],
where we see both inputs and outputs without knowing what
happens inside (e.g., income ¼ informants, outcome ¼ local
knowledge). If we consider the researcher as a non-trivial machine
(i.e., a system) [45] we know what the machine is like inside, what
components it has, the relationships between the components, and
finally how it works (e.g., how the local knowledge is obtained from
the informants, that is, what intermediate processes take place).
The way to de-trivialize the researcher’s role in his research is to
make explicit the presuppositions (knowledge) that guide the pro-
cedures he uses (actions), starting with a clear definition of his
theoretical–methodological framework.

2.5 The Researcher The researcher’s presuppositions are related both to his cultural
in His Research background and personal characteristics, and function as the prin-
ciples that guide his explanatory models [44]. Thereby, we can have
several explanations for the same phenomenon according to the
researcher’s theoretical premises, or the consensual premises
among the researchers in a research line. The researcher has to
make explicit presuppositions that require an exercise of reflection
that is not frequent in the daily research work [17]. However, the
reflection on the concept of resource is a pending subject in ethnoe-
cology, because this field aims to study the knowledge systems of
local people in relation to their own relationships with their envi-
ronment (as noted above). If the researcher considers natural
resources as elements that environment provides people to satisfy
their needs, the researcher adheres to the simplicity paradigm
(although being not explicit about this matter). In this trivializing
approach, the researcher considers that he is alien to the environ-
ment and the people who live in it, and presupposes that local
people are alien to the same environment as well. For these people,
resources would be something given, that could be obtained
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 173

(or could be appropriated) because it is not a part of themselves. In

addition, resources are considered natural, that is, provided by
nature dissociated from culture of both the people studied and
the researcher (cultures that are often not the same).
For complexity paradigm, the concept of resource is defined by
the knowledge system of the local people under study, a definition
that may or may not coincide with the researcher’s definition of
resource, according to his own knowledge system. These two
knowledge systems (which are expected to be elucidated and com-
pared by the researcher) depend on the cultural background and
personal characteristics of each one. Therefore, it is difficult to
consider how much of natural or cultural implies the concept of
resource. In a non-trivializing approach, the researcher and his
environment constitute a system, in relation to the system consti-
tuted by local people and their environment, people that establish
what a resource is, or what is not, through their own experiences. In
this context, talking about given resources has no sense.
No knowledge is directly accessible, but is possible to access
indirectly through the actions that the knowledge generates, like
discourses and behaviors of interviewed people [16]. Actions allow
the researcher to reconstruct the knowledge generated from them.
Among the different techniques commonly used in ethnosciences
(like free listing, participant observation, and oral history, among
others) [46–49], interviews “are the main tool that researchers have
to elicit information from study populations” [47]. An interview is
a communicational system based on the relationships between the
interviewer (researcher) and interviewees (informants), relation-
ships that allow for diverse exchanges between the involved actors.
An interview implies a conversation (in Latin, “go round together,”
from cum, “with,” and versare: “go round”), in which at least two
participants exchange discourses (verbal language) and behaviors
(nonverbal language: gestures, postures, movements, and space
use) that accompany the discourses. Together, both languages
(verbal and nonverbal) reinforce the meaning of circulating mes-
sages in the interview communicational context. Özüorçun said
that: “It is obvious that a great number of people agree that
nonverbal language takes up more space in communication than
verbal language” [50]. This is a very relevant topic, especially for
the intercultural communication to which many ethnobiologists
and ethnoecologists are accustomed. “It is important to under-
stand that every culture is unique and has its own customs, values,
and characteristics. [Into nonverbal language] Misunderstandings
and misinterpretations can be minimized when both sides are aware
of the fact that not every behavior is appropriate or transmits the
same message in every culture” [50]. Albuquerque and others
comment: “. . . nonverbal language, which depending on the pop-
ulation studied, can be of fundamental importance for the under-
standing of life and the daily routine of the community. The
174 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

misinterpretation of a simple gesture can compromise the study”

[46]. However, nonverbal language is still terra incognita for many
ethnoscientists. It is necessary to reflect on how this absence influ-
ences our explanations.
It is reductionist to consider that the researcher copies or
transfers without any kind of interpretation of what the interviewee
expresses (like a medieval amanuensis monk). This only could be
possible in a simplicity paradigm context that dissociates the
researcher from both the interviewee (with whom he inevitably
interacts) and the interview context (in which he necessarily is
immersed). In the complexity paradigm perspective, an interview
is the communicational context where discourses and behaviors
(that allow for the knowledge reconstruction by the researcher)
have meaning. In the reconstruction process of local knowledge
system, the nontrivial researcher (who is present in his own
research) necessarily has to make his own thinking categories
explicit in order to be able to establish comparisons with those of
the interviewees. In a general sense, the thinking categories of
interviewers and interviewees are not equivalents, even if both
belong to the same culture. The comparison requires an informa-
tion exchange that allows for adjustments and readjustment
(a feedback circuit) in terms of meaning. It is clearly a reflexive
path (not linear but recursive). This complex situation is contrasted
with that of a trivial researcher (who is absent in his own research)
that considers himself separated from his environment and believes
that his thinking categories are valid independently of those of the
interviewees. In this framework, the researcher can award, transfer,
or impose (in the worst case) his own thinking categories to the
people under study. For instance, categories as “medicine” or
“medicament” (according to the researcher) and “remedy”
(expressed by interviewees) are not necessarily homologous, nor
can they be transposed in a direct way [16, 51]. When the
researcher makes his own thinking categories explicit, he avoids
this interview trivialization and facilitates the reconstruction pro-
cess of local knowledge.

3 Research Developed

3.1 Study Area The study area corresponds to the “Rı́o de la Plata region” that
encompasses the area of influence of the Rı́o de la Plata: the lower
delta of the Paraná River and its advance front, the Martı́n Garcı́a
Island, and the Rı́o de la Plata riverside from the delta to Punta
Indio district in Buenos Aires province. This region includes the
Buenos Aires-La Plata Metropolitan Area, the largest conurbation
(in size and population) in Argentina, constituted by two contigu-
ous urban agglomerations: the “Greater Buenos Aires” and the
“Greater La Plata.” The first involves the Buenos Aires
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 175

Autonomous City (the federal capital) and neighboring districts of

Buenos Aires province. The second, further south, involves La Plata
city (the provincial capital) and its neighboring districts [17, 52,
53]. This complex region contains three distinct areas:
1. Spontaneous vegetation areas, mostly riparian, as marginal for-
ests, hydrophilic forests and shrublands, herbaceous coastal
communities (denominated pajonales), and “giant bulrush”
populations (called juncales), and also the forests of higher
terrains on a substrate of shells parallel or subparallel to the
coastline (named talares). In these areas are located several
state and private protected areas.
2. Exclusively urban areas (the conurbation).
3. Peri-urban areas defined as transitional sectors between the
previous areas, and also between the exclusively urban areas
and peripheral rural zones (cultivated fields). Peri-urban areas
have changing borders according to their historical rhythms, and
include zones with development of horticultural activities
(locally named La Plata horticultural belt), in commercial orch-
ards with relatively large areas (4–10 ha) that provide fresh
vegetables and fruits for conurbation inhabitants, and homegar-
dens with small areas (0.25–0.50 ha) for family consumption,
even for occasional sale in reduced scale, as a supplement to the
domestic economy [54–60].

3.2 Background From the mid-nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth
century, Argentina received massive waves of immigration mostly of
3.2.1 Immigration Flows
European origin (44.9% from Italy, 31.5% from Spain, until 1940).
and Pluriculturality
Immigrants have decisively collaborated to build the country cul-
tural heritage, and many current “local family traditions” have its
origin in these migratory flows. Immigration from neighboring
countries was more or less constant during this period, but with a
major presence in border provinces. In the second half of the
twentieth century, a recent and not massive immigration from
neighboring countries occurred, this time directed to the Buenos
Aires-La Plata Metropolitan Area. Most neighboring immigrants
arrived from Paraguay and Bolivia (21.22% and 15.24% respec-
tively, of all foreigners in 2001), and oriented themselves towards
horticultural activity in the peri-urban area, as well as towards
manufacturing industry, construction, and commerce in the exclu-
sively urban areas [52, 61, 62].
By the end of twentieth century, another recent immigration to
Metropolitan Area took place, corresponding to the Far Eastern
countries, such as Korea, Japan, and China. The Asian immigration
represented in 2001 almost 2% of all foreigners in Argentina, an
exiguous value compared to 67.96% immigration from American
countries and 28.22% representing that from European countries.
176 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

However, Asian immigrants concentrated in Buenos Aires Autono-

mous City have a conspicuous presence, engaged in the manufac-
ture of clothing and commerce. Japanese and Chinese immigration
in the first half of twentieth century was low and they settled in the
peri-urban areas, dedicated themselves to horticulture and/or flo-
riculture. In the late twentieth century, Chinese immigrants
exceeded the number of Japanese and Koreans, the groups that
previously dominated [52, 63]. With regard to immigration flows
to Buenos Aires-La Plata Metropolitan Area, people from other
provinces of the country (the so-called internal immigrants), who
settled in the conurbation searching for better life conditions and
work chances, should also be considered.
In this frame characterized by immigration processes, the study
area constitutes a pluricultural context as in other large metropoli-
tan areas around the world. This context implies a heterogeneous
mosaic of cultural segments, each one conformed for different
people who share their own worldviews and traditions, and who
interact to a greater or lesser degree with people belonging to other
cultural segments. It is a dynamic system that changes according to
the rhythm of intercultural interactions. By its presence alone, both
the external and internal immigrant segments increase the system
complexity of the study area. Pluriculturality can be defined as the
coexistence of different cultures in a geographical scenario which
live together through very diverse sort of exchanges. On the con-
trary, multiculturality seems to be considered as a previous step
where different cultures coexist but exchanges are not enough to
“live together.” As an overcoming stage, interculturality is under-
stood as a necessary goal pointing to the recognition and under-
standing of the existence of other cultures, as well as respect,
communication, exchange, and mutual learning [64]. It is impor-
tant to highlight that in a culturally heterogeneous context, differ-
ent cultural segments can present diverse exchange levels, so that
some segments can display stronger exchanges than that displayed
by others segments of the same set. Also, exchanges between seg-
ments do not necessarily start at the same time, or develop in the
same way. These differences are expected in regard to a pluricultural

3.2.2 Environmental The high current biocultural diversity of the study area is the result
Changes of its secular history of environmental changes, as shown by the
data obtained in research carried out in exclusive urban, peri-urban,
and spontaneous vegetation areas [53, 55, 64]. In a general sense,
environmental changes refer to the identification of differences
(both natural and cultural) in a temporal axis that allow to describe
two environmental situations, previous and subsequent. Change
magnitude can vary from small differences, perhaps not very visible,
to catastrophic events, according to the valorization realized by
both the researcher and local people. Most of the changes identified
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 177

are local, and some correspond to weather conditions linked to

global climate change. In the framework of local biocultural diver-
sity, the peri-urban sector presents the most visible consequences of
the environmental changes upon local people’s lives, due mainly to
its characteristic mobile limits, as has been particularly evident in
previous studies on local homegardens and commercial orchards
The increasing advance of the urbanization is a continuous
process in the study area, though the territorial extension of the
peri-urban sector in relation to the local spontaneous vegetation
areas responded to “expansion–contraction pulses,” at least in the
last century. This affirmation is based on the available historical and
geographical data, and on the application of ethnoscientific techni-
ques that aim to valorize the narratives of local inhabitants about
environmental changes as a methodological tool [53, 65,
66]. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, in different
zones of the riverside of the Rı́o de la Plata, the lands dedicated
to fruit-horticultural activity were expanded, hand in hand with
European immigration, with the consequent contraction of the
spontaneous vegetation areas. During this time, immigrants intro-
duced Vitis labrusca L. (Vitaceae), and started the production of
the so-called vino de la costa (“coastal wine”), because the vineyards
were located near riverside (a product that is currently considered
“traditional” for the area) [55, 66]. On the contrary, in the first half
of twentieth century, industrial development and frequent floods of
the Rı́o de la Plata conditioned many inhabitants engaged in horti-
culture to settle in the exclusively urban sectors (which expanded
along with increasing industrialization), which led to the abandon-
ment of the horticultural lands, and the contraction of these spaces
was accompanied by a conspicuous expansion of the spontaneous
vegetation areas (whose floristic composition changed with the
entry of cultivated species that had become naturalized, constitut-
ing a new system different from the original one). Now, an incipient
recovery of the horticultural activities, and certain expansion of
vineyards encouraged by local cooperatives, with the resultant con-
traction of spontaneous vegetation areas are underway [65]. These
“expansion–contraction pulses” of the areas, each in relation to one
another, is a characteristic of local peri-urban biocultural landscape.
In this way, the pulses constitute the context where environmental
changes (which result from the emergence of a set of both natural
and cultural variables) have meaning, and define the evolution of a
local biocultural system, which adjusts to the circumstances [53].

3.3 Local Actors The cases presented here correspond to the peri-urban areas of the
southern sector of Rı́o de la Plata region, in Buenos Aires province.
These cases involve three kinds of local actors selected for the
ethnoecological research because their specific activities and daily
lives were influenced, both directly and indirectly, by different
178 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

environmental changes over the last century: (1) horticulturists

(locally named quinteros) of homegardens of Ensenada and Berisso
districts coasts (Greater La Plata), (2) woodcutters (locally known as
leñateros) of Magdalena and Punta Indio districts in implanted
forests and local talares (further south Greater La Plata), and
(3) giant bulrush extractors (locally called junqueros) of Magdalena
district riverside.
The research design, for all the cases, has been based on recon-
struction of the local knowledge system related to the identification
and valorization of environmental changes, that happened mainly
over the second half of the twentieth century, and in some cases
from the beginning of that century, when informants recalled situa-
tions narrated as part of family histories [53]. In order to access the
local knowledge system, different locations in the study area were
selected, where both open and semi-structured interviews were
conducted [47], which made possible a major flexibility in conver-
sations between the interviewer and the interviewee, and to pay
more attention to the nonverbal language that accompanies and
reinforces the verbal language. In most cases, the interview resulted
in the analysis of the interviewees’ narratives, including the oral
history technique [49, 67].
According to Ruth Lane, a pioneer in the study of narratives
about environmental changes: “Local people accumulate knowl-
edge (...) from their own experiences and from those of prior
generations, but processes of memory are tied to life experience
and it is necessity highly selective” [68]. The narratives allow to
incorporate the appreciation of environmental changes from the
perspective of local informants, and thus useful to rethink the
conservation from an integrating biocultural perspective [65]. In
Lane’s words: “By recording the local people perspectives and
relating them to scientific understandings of the impact of land
use change, local knowledge and scientific knowledge can be
brought together” [68].
In the case of the horticulturists, the initial ethnoecological
studies were oriented to horticultural practices and the manage-
ment of local agrobiodiversity [53–57]. During these studies, it
became evident in the interviews that different environmental vari-
ables (both natural and cultural) were interpreted as change situa-
tions by the informants with an impact on their own activities. On
this basis, it was decided to reorient the interviews towards the
identification and valorization of the local environmental changes.
Studies about local agrobiodiversity were carried out both in home-
gardens and in commercial orchards [56, 57]. The study of local
environmental changes was restricted to riverside homegardens
where floods are a very relevant factor: 25 interviews in home-
gardens of three different localities were developed [53, 54]. In
the case of both leñateros and junqueros, the studies developed were
specific: 24 interviews in five different localities were realized
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 179

[69]. Informed consent of the interviewees, comprising people of

both sexes between 25 and 75 years old, was requested. All of them
were selected using the snowball sampling technique [46] and were
considered key informants due to their recognized experience in the
activity they are currently doing or have done in the past.

4 Studied Cases

4.1 “Quinteros” Quinteros are the local actors involved in horticultural activity in
homegardens, often locally so-called quintas. The homegardens
local history in Berisso and Ensenada districts is immersed in the
“expansion–contraction pulses” context commented above. Local
environmental changes have meaning in that context. The “first
pulse” recorded began at the end of nineteenth century with the
arrival of European immigrants that expanded the cultivated lands
to the detriment of the spontaneous vegetation areas. Homegar-
dens with diverse vegetables, some fruit trees, and also vineyards,
proliferated near the Rio de la Plata shores in Ensenada and Berisso
districts. The “second pulse” at first half of twentieth century, was
characterized by industrial development and frequent river floods
implied abandonment and reduction of the horticultural terrains,
and expansion of the spontaneous vegetation sectors. The “third
pulse” corresponded to current times with a limited activity in
homegardens and a rise in winegrowing activities with development
of the aforementioned cooperatives. The recovery of local horticul-
tural practices depends on the efforts of the quinteros that allow for
their daily sustenance and the direct sale of some handmade pro-
ducts they produce. In this context, field works focused on the
horticultural activities and the environmental changes identified
and valued in the interviewees’ narratives.
The riversides are dynamic systems, and those of the Rio de la
Plata are not an exception, with frequent floods of different mag-
nitudes that can affect houses and homegardens along the coasts.
Homegardens also are dynamic systems that can change its physi-
ognomy, microclimatic conditions, and association of cultivated
species that can change in time according to the species selection
criteria of different family members: some species may be no longer
cultivated, other new species may be introduced, and neglected
species may be recultivated (selective criteria may be adaptive for
the system as a whole). Likewise, homegardens can be abandoned
for some time (e.g., after a flood) and then can be reused. Isla
Paulino (Berisso district) is a locality that illustrates the impact of
great floods on the lives of local horticulturists. According to
historical records, in 1915 a strong flood destroyed the precarious
houses (ranchos) of that time, which were replaced by houses of
wood and zinc. The local population was able to recover despite the
destruction. A second flood of large proportion took place in 1940:
180 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

the water exceeded the level of 4 m and devastated the home-

gardens and vineyards, houses, and infrastructure for tourism of
relative importance. This time, reconstruction was more difficult.
This last great flood is considered “catastrophic” in the quinteros
narratives, who suffered the effects of the phenomenon, directly or
indirectly through their familiars. The Isla Paulino depopulation
was very conspicuous in the first half of the twentieth century, both
due to the effects of the mentioned flood, and as a result of the
increasing industrialization and urbanization. In its apogee, before
the alluded changes, more than 70 families related to horticulture,
fishing, and tourism lived on the island. Currently, only seven
families live permanently on the island, and another five have con-
served their houses for weekends. Unlike other nearby localities,
Isla Paulino, with about 1300 ha, despite being located 10 km from
La Plata city, is today in a precarious situation: there are no electric-
ity, potable water, and gas services, and it has only a public tele-
phone. There is no school, and a single health post provides a
nursing service during summer. Fluvial transport presents restricted
schedules and sometimes it is interrupted [53, 54].
The floods are identified and negatively valuated in the quin-
teros narratives as environmental changes. The same happens with
the “industrialization–urbanization” complex that conditioned the
abandonment that is still observed in Isla Paulino and neighboring
places. In the narratives, no differences are expressed between
natural and cultural environmental changes for the horticulturist’s
everyday experiences (categories that correspond to the
researcher). The researcher can be tempted to consider floods as
natural phenomena and urbanization as a cultural one, but this is a
reductionist way of thinking. Even if we consider that flood is a
natural phenomenon in its origin, the moment it intervenes
people’s lives, as we discussed above, it becomes also a cultural
phenomenon. Urbanization (as a result of industrialization prog-
ress) could be understood as a cultural phenomenon, but urbaniza-
tion intervenes people’s lives, and becomes natural to people. We
must remember what Morin said: “Man is a cultural being by
nature, because he is a natural being by culture” [26].

4.2 “Leñateros” Leñateros are the local actors involved in firewood extraction, con-
sumption, and sale. The main use identified by interviewees is
heating homes during the winter (salamanders and fireplaces),
and to a lesser extent cooking (roasting, wood oven, and clay
oven). Also, firewood is highly valued by brick factories of the
studied area. All the interviewees indicated that the utilization of
firewood complements natural or packaged gas for heating rooms
and cooking. The extraction of firewood is carried out in local
forests, both native (talares) and planted (mainly eucalyptus spe-
cies). Talares are forests developed on a shell substrate in higher
terrains that represent the ancient coastline. Dominant species is
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 181

the “tala,” Celtis ehrenbergiana (Klotzch) Liebm. (Celtidaceae),

accompanied by other native trees species, such as “coronillo,”
Scutia buxifolia Reissek (Rhamnaceae), “sombra de toro,” Jodina
rhombifolia (Hook. & Arn.) Reissek (Santalaceae), and “sauco,”
Sambucus australis Cham. & Schltdl. (Caprifoliaceae). In the area
naturalized exotic species are also found, like the “laurel,” Laurus
nobilis L. (Lauraceae), “morera,” Morus alba L. (Moraceae), “aca-
cia negra,” Gleditsia triacanthos L. (Fabaceae), and “ligustro,”
Ligustrum lucidum W.T. Aiton (Oleaceae). The talares have seen
a widespread destruction as a result of non-sustainable practices
such as uncontrolled firewood extraction. The historical references
point to an intensive early use of “tala” timber from the sixteenth
century, mainly for fuel and construction of houses and fences
[69]. To protect these forests in 1984 the Biosphere Reserve “Par-
que Costero del Sur” (“Coastal Park of the South”) was created in
Magdalena and Punta Indio districts, which is a valuable biocultural
heritage for the area. It consists of a 5-km wide and 70-km long
fringe on the south riverside of the Rı́o de la Plata, with an area of
25,000 ha, comprising mainly private properties. It is a partial
protection reserve of the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature (IUCN), and allows for the sustainable use of ecosys-
tems. Nevertheless, a municipal regulation prohibits the total use of
some native tree species. Currently, activities such as livestock hus-
bandry and shell extraction in the reserve’s private lands affect the
integrity of the talares.
The season for firewood collection is mainly winter. Sellers
usually extract wood earlier to have a supply of dry firewood.
Interviewees comment that collection of dry branches is carried
out by people of both sexes and different ages, from children to
elderly, from the surroundings of houses or more distant places.
The municipal pruning waste and wood from clearing forests for
construction are also taken advantage of. Extractions are only car-
ried out by adult men and include collection of fallen trees, pruning
in height, and cutting down planted forests. The collected firewood
is transported afoot or by trucks and vans. Chainsaws, endless saws,
and axes are utilized for cutting. The branches are often cut to get
kindling. Most of the interviewees prefer the timber obtained from
“talas” and “coronillos,” both valued as “good firewood” because
of the heat generated and its enduring embers (according to the
available literature the timber from these forests are dense, hard,
and heavy). However, interviewees comply with the local prohibi-
tion to extract inside the Biosphere Reserve. Consequently, they
use eucalyptus timber as an alternative, stating “it makes good
flame and it is easier to obtain,” and because implanted eucalyptus
species forests abound in the area [69].
With respect to the identification and valorization of local
environmental changes, according to leñateros narratives it is not
related to the lack of the resource but to the prohibition of
182 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

extractions of native trees within the Biosphere Reserve. This is

more evident in the interviewees who live within the reserve in
Punta Indio district. Firewood cannot be extracted from “tala”
and “coronillo,” but it can be extracted from naturalized species
like “acacia negra,” “laurel,” and “ligustro,” as part of the talares
conservation strategies. Outside the reserve, planted forests have
extended which per se constitutes an environmental change
although one of gradual effect. The creation of the reserve in the
1980s that modified the valorization of the talares is also an envi-
ronmental change. Before the constitution of the protected area the
talares were exploited without any control, even to facilitate the
local shell extraction. In his narrative, an interviewee comments,
appealing to his own family history: “my father lived his whole life
fighting against the tala. That was the conception that we previ-
ously had about the tala. It had to be eliminated, it was like Indians”
[69]. From elimination to current conservation there was a learning
about the valorization of the talares (a contextual change that has
generated a new meaning), embodied in the new timber resource

4.3 “Junqueros” Junqueros are the local actors involved in the extraction and use of
“giant bulrush” ( junco), Schoenoplectus californicus (C.A. Mey.)
Soják (Cyperaceae), and its related species. These actors are mainly
extractors (cutters) and sometimes sellers and artisans, and most of
them supplement their domestic economy with other jobs such as
fishing or trading. The extraction is carried out in spontaneous
populations ( juncales) on the Rı́o de la Plata shore. The harvest is
done from late winter or early spring until late summer or early fall,
when plants reach high enough for their use (1.60 m) and weather
conditions allow for drying. In winter they prefer not to cut, to
avoid the cold and because, as they say: “if it is cut in that season
plants do not recover.” Nevertheless, some interviewees expressed
that in the “good times” (e.g., the 1980s) they extract continuously
all the year. The rushes are cut with sickles mainly made by hand,
using scythes and knives as a base material. The cut is done at the
emerged substrate level, to avoid accidents. The freshly cut rushes
are piled and transported to houses, where they are “cleaned” by
shaking them so that the dry and shorter ones fall away. During the
process, the rush is considered “green” and some junqueros sell it in
that state. However, others dry them in the sun, so that rushes
become clear, and thus increase its value. The interviewees identify
in their narratives different kinds of rushes according to their uses:
(1) the thickest to tie tomato, chili, and eggplant plants to respec-
tive canes in commercial orchards, or for making rustic handicrafts
such as mats and baskets, (2) the thinnest to tie garlic and onion
plants in orchards, and also to make more delicate artisan weaves.
With respect to identification and valorization of local environ-
mental changes by the junqueros, their narratives coincide with two
Ethnoecology in Pluricultural Contexts: Theoretical and Methodological. . . 183

facts that they consider very negative for the development of their
activities in the 1990s. “Good times” of the 1980s became “bad
times” in the next decade. In the first place, most of junqueros
production was sold to producers of the horticultural belt, to tie
plants to canes in open-air crops. The definitive adoption of culti-
vation under cover (greenhouses) in the 1990s, a system that
pushed its major productivity inside these controlled environments,
involved the replacement of rushes by plastic supplies (polyethylene
threads), which implied an abrupt decline in the demand: the
beginning of the decline of the junqueros activity. Secondly, a
“catastrophic” event occurred at the end of 1999: Magdalena
district coast was affected due to an oil spill, the product of a
collision between an oil tanker that entered a channel of the Rı́o
de la Plata and a container ship heading in the opposite direction.
As a consequence of the impact, 4600 m3 of crude oil was spilled.
The oil slick affected 23 km of riparian wetlands, including the
juncales. Once the spill reached the Magdalena district riverside,
different local actors were seriously affected: junqueros, fishermen,
camping sites, and supplies stores’ owners, among others. All inter-
viewees attribute the decrease of the juncales to the oil spill, due to
the death of its rhizomes: the oil “burned” the rushes, and some
plants that had not died became “spotted,” lowering their quality.
Some narratives acknowledge that juncales decrease is linked with
the greater erosion on certain coastal areas (that impedes the sedi-
mentation necessary for the rushes’ growth). A few narratives
connect the juncales decrease with cattle-intensive breeding on
the coasts, especially in winter when pastures are scarce. The jun-
queros activities in the area studied have not recovered yet, limited
only to obtain raw material for handicraft production [69].

5 Final Remarks

In this chapter we try to delineate a theoretical–methodological

framework from the perspective of the complexity paradigm, fol-
lowing the pathway outlined by Gregory Bateson about the need to
make explicit our presuppositions in our work as scientists. The
theoretical–methodological framework is the context in which the
research results acquire meaning. In this sense, we discuss presup-
positions about ecology, biocultural ecology, and ethnoecology, the
relationships between organisms and its environment and the peo-
ple and their environment (and what the people think about it),
about the dissociation between nature and culture, the links
between knowledge and actions, as well as the place of the
researcher in his own research, and the role of his own thinking
categories in the research process.
In this framework, we apply the complex thinking to different
cases related to how people under study identify and value the
184 Julio A. Hurrell et al.

so-called environmental changes, a relevant topic for current eth-

noecology in pluricultural contexts of urban areas. Along this path,
the ultimate aim is to put into practice our reflection capacity. In
this respect, we agree with Humberto Maturana: “How far should
the reflection go? Every human being reflects a condition of
humanity. The question alludes to how many of the foundations
of our doing and our world we dare to judge in the reflection. My
answer is: everything” [70]. We must rethink our thinking as a
contribution to a complex ethnoecology.


The authors acknowledge Ulysses P. Albuquerque for his support

and generosity, Alejandro C. Pizzoni for critically reading and
making opportune comments on the manuscript, the interviewees
that contributed disinterestedly with their knowledge during the
research development, and the LEBA staff who collaborated in the
field work. Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), Fondo para
la Investigación Cientı́fica y Tecnológica (FONCyT), and Consejo
Nacional de Investigaciones Cientı́ficas y Técnicas (CONICET),
Argentina, provided financial support for the studies carried out.

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Reflexiones sobre el caso de la región
Chapter 13

Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical

Mariana Franco Cassino, Rubana Palhares Alves, Carolina Levis,
Jennifer Watling, André Braga Junqueira, Myrtle P. Shock,
Maria Julia Ferreira, Victor Lery Caetano Andrade, Laura P. Furquim,
Sara Deambrozi Coelho, Eduardo Kazuo Tamanaha, Eduardo Góes Neves,
and Charles R. Clement

In this chapter, the reader will find guidelines and suggestions for the application of ethnobotanical and
ethnoecological methods in archaeological sites and their surroundings, aiming to establish a closer
dialogue between ethnobiology and archaeology for understanding the human history of past and present
landscapes. The goal of such methodological proposals is to document the knowledge and practices of
human populations that live on and around archaeological sites concerning the vegetation of these areas.
The methods presented here can shed light on specific questions about the relationships between past
human populations and their plant resources (e.g., practices of use, management, and domestication),
helping to understand how people transformed the landscape and how the legacies of such relationships are
visible in the present. This chapter is collectively written by ethnobiologists, botanists, ecologists, and
archaeologists from several institutions working in the Amazon basin. Thus, examples presented here come
mainly from research conducted in this region.

Key words Archaeological sites, Useful plants, Domesticated landscapes, Landscape transformations

1 Introduction

Long-term human activities have modified the environment during

much of the Holocene, if not earlier [1]. Through management
practices, people have transformed the landscapes in which they live
into more productive and secure cultural niches for human dwell-
ing, foraging, and food production [2–4]. The emergence of food
production systems, starting around 10,000 years ago, caused
enduring impacts on species distributions with the promotion and
expansion of populations of domesticated animals and plants [5].

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

188 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

Along with modifications in species compositions and distribu-

tions, humans have increased the complexity and heterogeneity of
landscapes through changes in soil properties and hydrology
[3, 6]. Thus, contemporary landscapes can be considered the result
of complex interactions of multiple factors over time, including
human actions and natural events [7]. Historical ecology is an
interdisciplinary research program that seeks to elucidate the his-
tories of interrelationships between human populations and their
landscapes [8–11], attempting to understand the nature, the inten-
sity, the spatial extent, and the persistence of human landscape
transformations [12, 13]. Ethnobotany and ethnoecology offer
methods that are useful for researching the historical ecology of
landscapes. This chapter outlines these well-known methods and
shows how they interact with other disciplines involved in historical
ecology research.
Understanding the human history of a place is necessary for
understanding the landscapes of the present [6, 14]. Archaeological
sites are the places where we find material evidence of past human
occupations, whether from decades or millennia ago. A great vari-
ety of archaeological sites and remains exist, from many geographi-
cal regions, periods, and peoples, that result in different contexts,
use histories, and, ultimately, modern landscapes (Fig. 1). Examples
of archaeological sites include settlements with permanent housing,
temporary campsites, and agricultural, ceremonial, and tool-

Fig. 1 The Monte Castelo shell mound archaeological site near the Guaporé River
is predominantly formed from freshwater snail shells and other materials
intentionally deposited by humans since the early Holocene. This created an
elevated area that is always above the level of the inundations in the seasonally
flooded savannas in Rondonia State, Brazil, and supports a distinctive
vegetation, including forest taxa. Credit: Myrtle P. Shock, UFOPA
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 189

production areas. Archaeological remains include fragments of

ceramic vessels, stone artifacts, glass and metal objects, animal and
human bones, plant remains, as well as features such as hearths,
burials, anthropogenic soils, and postholes. Archaeology, through
the analysis of different material cultural remains, reconstructs the
history of human populations, and includes archaeobotany, also
known as paleoethnobotany, that focuses on the relationships
between people and plants through the analysis of botanical
remains [15]. Archaeobotanical data can provide insights into
diet, subsistence strategies, and resource management practices
[16–19]. A closely associated discipline, paleoecology, seeks to
understand the environmental conditions that persisted during a
certain period. The identification of plant remains in paleoecologi-
cal records can offer insights into how and how strongly humans
modified vegetation on both local and regional scales, and when
combined with archaeology contributes for a thorough under-
standing of the historical ecology of the landscapes [20].
Since modern landscapes are the result of cultural activities in
the past [6], present-day plant communities may contain informa-
tion that helps to tell stories of how humans occupied and con-
structed their niches [21], providing a complement to
archaeological remains as a tool to understand cultural changes
[22], that is, they can be considered ecofacts [23, 24]. Plants are
an important part of cultural niche construction of all peoples, as
numerous plant species with different uses are fundamental ele-
ments to supply the material and spiritual needs of day-to-day life
of all human communities [25–27].
Through intimate, long-term interaction with the landscape,
people developed detailed knowledge about how to manage and
transform their environment [4]. People who live near and on
archaeological sites today use and appropriate the legacies of past
populations, such as the anthropogenic forests and soils, and are
able to identify and differentiate forest communities and resources
[26, 28] and classify them according to their uses [29]. This knowl-
edge is critical to the histories about how niche construction trans-
forms environments into landscapes. The different cultural
dimensions of people–plant interactions and the metaphorical
representations embedded in this knowledge and practices can be
revealed through the methodological framework developed by
ethnobiology and ethnoecology [30]. In this chapter, we propose
guidelines for the application of ethnobotanical and ethnoecologi-
cal methods for studies of plant communities associated with
archaeological sites, in order to identify legacies of plant and land-
scape use and management, and to investigate the ways in which
local people continue to incorporate and perpetuate these legacies.
Following a presentation about archaeological sites as study loca-
tions, this chapter focuses on specific methods that can be used to
190 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

approach questions that stem from historical ecology. Most

research projects combine more than one method, as they are
complementary in nature.

2 Archaeological Sites as Nexuses for Investigating the History of Human–Plant


The reoccupation of archaeological sites is a common phenomenon

[31], as cultural, social, and symbolic motivations can lead groups
of people to recognize cultural landscapes as places to settle
[32]. The continuities between the scenarios of past and present
populations are not always clear, especially in places with violent
colonization histories. Traditionally, such continuities are sought in
social structures, in settlement and demographic patterns
[31]. However, the notion of continuity can also be understood
as the particular ways of relating with the environment, culturally
and historically constructed by peoples of the past, and constantly
re-signified by current populations, whether or not they have
genetic or social relationships with the prior inhabitants [31]. An
archaeological site and its surroundings encompass areas with dif-
ferent functionalities: habitation areas, plazas, activity areas, home-
gardens, swiddens, trails, ritual areas, etc. Different functionalities
are associated with different ways to use and manage the land and
resources, and therefore can lead to different visible legacies on the
landscape. When a place is reoccupied, these functionalities can be
different and they are also likely to change with time (see Fig. 2 for a
hypothetical superposition of past and present occupations). As a
result, a complex vegetation palimpsest emerges, composed of a
mosaic of useful plants introduced in different spaces and in differ-
ent periods of time. Ethnobiological methods, designed for acces-
sing the current relationships between people and their landscapes,
can help disentangle the different dimensions involved in the con-
struction of such a landscape.
We recommend that, whenever possible, the collection of eth-
nobotanical and ethnoecological data be done in combination with
archaeological research. Assessing the relationship between past
activity areas and modern plant species distributions is important
for understanding long-term people–plant relationships. For
instance, in Amazonian archaeological sites, anthropogenic soils
(such as Amazonian Dark Earths, or Terra Preta de Índio)
(Fig. 3) are often associated with areas inhabited by people in the
past, and as one moves away from the habitation areas, the degree
of soil modification tends to gradually decrease due to other types
of past land use [34, 35]. Surrounding areas, at greater distance,
with barely or unaltered soils are interpreted as having been used
with lower intensity (e.g., for hunting and plant gathering).
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 191

Fig. 2 This hypothetical scheme shows a current riverside community (above)

that has reoccupied a place previously occupied by a pre-Columbian indigenous
population (below). The representation of the past occupation is inspired by the
Xinguano villages depicted in Heckenberger [33]. Designed by Flavio Cassino

Recognizing the heterogeneity within and between archaeological

sites is important for more accurate interpretation of present vege-
tation patterns in previously occupied areas.

3 Selection of Collaborators

The methods of ethnobiology, when applied to historical ecology

studies, usually seek to understand the legacies of long-lasting
histories of cultural niche construction in current landscapes.
Thus, people who have lived for a long time in the study area
(e.g., former residents, communities founders), are usually appro-
priate collaborators in surveys. The collaborators can be selected
through the snowball technique [36]. According to the objectives
of the researcher, other requirements besides long permanence in
the region should be considered. For example, when studying the
legacies of past populations on forest composition around arche-
ological sites, extractivists, hunters, and others who frequently
make use of forest resources are recommended potential collabora-
tors. When looking for the influence of past occupations in home-
gardens, women who tend the gardens are the preferred
collaborators [37]. For studies about vegetation diversity of fallows
on anthropogenic soils, farmers who are more knowledgeable
about soil types and old cultivated areas will be the most appropri-
ate contributors (e.g., [38]). Depending on the research question,
a systematic or random selection of collaborators may be required;
192 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

Fig. 3 Profile of an Amazonian Dark Earth (Terra Preta de I´ndio) at the Hatahara
site, Iranduba, Amazonas, Brazil. Note the dark brown color and numerous
ceramic fragments. Credit: Val Moraes, Central Amazon Project, USP

for example, to access the general knowledge on soil–plant interac-

tions, including—but not limited to—archaeological sites (e.g.,
[38]). For further general recommendations on the criteria to
choose survey collaborators, see Albuquerque et al. [39].

4 Free Listing of Landscape Categories and Useful Plants

Free listing is an interview strategy designed to provide an inven-

tory of a certain cultural domain, that may also contribute to
identify the cultural importance and salience of items, to identify
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 193

local specialists, and to analyze intracultural variation [40]. Free

listing is a tool that has advantages and limitations, and should
always be executed following the good practices recommended by
Albuquerque et al. [41], Balée and Nolan [42], and Quinlan [40].
The employment of free lists on and around archaeological sites
is a valuable approach for understanding local perceptions about
different landscape domains, areas used in the present and past, and
the different degrees of human influence across the landscape. As an
example, the Ka’apor people of eastern Amazonia recognize a series
of landscape domains, including high forests, fallow forests, swamp
forests, riverine forests, old and new gardens, and patches with
specific dominant tree species [42]. The Wajãpi people, of north-
eastern Amazonia, recognize different types of fallow forests
according to their successional stages and their species composition
(closed fallow, new fallow, old fallow, and clean fallow) [43]. The
Yanomami people of northern Amazonia recognize at least 25 types
of vegetation in their territory, including different successional
stages of swiddens and fallows, forests with different degrees of
human impact and different structures and composition [44].
Free lists can also be used to help elicit the plant composition of
different landscape domains [42]. Balée and Nolan [42] asked
Ka’apor collaborators to list trees that occur in fallow forests
(which would be vegetation domains with cultural history) and
trees that occur in high forests. The same logic can be applied to
elicit plant species occurring in archaeological areas, such as species
that occur on Amazonian Dark Earths [45].
Free lists of plants that occur in different areas within archaeo-
logical sites may also provide useful information that can be fed into
predictive models of the occurrence of archaeological sites. Data on
the distribution of archaeological sites, especially in forested areas,
is still scarce and highly heterogeneous [13]. In the Brazilian state
of Acre, for example, hundreds of geometric earthworks, known as
geoglyphs, were discovered only after deforestation in the last few
decades [46]. In recent years, with the advances of GIS technolo-
gies and the creation of extensive databases, predictive models of
archaeological sites location have been developed, helping to opti-
mize surveys to locate new sites [47–50].
In the Amazon basin, numerous useful palms and trees (e.g.,
Elaeis oleifera and Bertholletia excelsa) are indicators of cultural
landscapes [45, 51]. Forest patches enriched with these and other
useful species are considered “cultural or anthropogenic forests,”
because they are believed to be the result of past human manage-
ment [24, 51] (Fig. 4). Clement et al. [52] suggested four cate-
gories of plant species that are indicators of anthropogenic soils in
Amazonia: (a) species whose distribution is limited to anthropo-
genic soils; (b) out-of-range indicators; (c) out-of-typical-habitat
indicators; (d) species with greater density, dominance, or fre-
quency in anthropogenic soils rather than elsewhere.
194 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

Fig. 4 A Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) stand along the edge of Jutica Lake, Tefé, Amazonas, Brazil. Most
Brazil nut stands across Amazonia are anthropogenic in origin [53]. Credit: Eduardo K. Tamanaha, IDSM

Thus, free listings may be used to identify plant indicators of

archaeological sites. Junqueira et al. [54] interviewed smallholder
farmers about species that occur in fallows on ADE and in fallows
on other types of soil. Using the lists produced, the authors applied
an indicator species analysis [55], commonly used in ecological
research, to identify which species can be considered indicator
species of anthropogenic soils, without explicitly asking local resi-
dents. When applied across a wider area by integrated research
groups, information about the occurrence of these species should
contribute to determine regional patterns of distribution of plants
that are considered indicators of archaeological sites. Further tools
to analyze the cultural importance of the items cited during free
lists can be found in Albuquerque et al. [41], Balée and Nolan [42],
and Quinlan [40].

5 Interviews About the Uses and Management of Plants

Interviews are commonly used in ethnobiological studies. Semi-

structured interviews, in which the main questions are established
by the researcher to guide the collaborator to topics sought by the
researchers, provide opportunities for issues that come up during
conversation to be included and explored when the researcher
judges them to be relevant [41]. For further discussion of the
care needed for planning and executing interviews see Albuquerque
et al. [41].
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 195

For historical ecology approaches, semi-structured interviews

can draw upon the collaborators’ knowledge of the environment,
the patterns in which useful plants occur in the landscape, their
associations with different elements of archaeological sites, and the
areas and the ways in which they are used and managed. The
persistent effects on the landscape of past management practices
are often recognized by modern societies. Numerous of these
cultural practices are perpetuated in the present, and modified by
current societies, sometimes dynamically re-signified and adapted
to local demands [3].
Similar to what was proposed for free lists, interviews can be
formulated in order to elicit the different landscape units recog-
nized by local people and the plants used by them [28]. For each
plant, questions can be asked about (a) the plant’s uses, (b) how it is
managed, and (c) where it occurs. In addition, semi-structured
interviews may provide qualitative information about the symbolic
relationships between local people and the environment, and their
impressions about the societies that occupied the region in the past,
contributing to understanding how current societies re-signify and
transform legacies from past populations.
In order to facilitate data analysis, the types of use and manage-
ment can be defined and grouped into categories. Uses can be
grouped into categories depending on the purposes for which a
species is used. An extensive literature exists on the compilation and
analysis of these categories of plant uses [44, 56–59]. Management
practices can be grouped into categories depending on “what peo-
ple want to achieve, whether the effects of the practice are direc-
tional or not in the way they fundamentally shape plant species
assemblages, and whether the practices result in similarities in
terms of forest composition, abundance and distribution of useful
species” ([3], p. 4). See Levis et al. [3] for a proposal of manage-
ment practice categories.
The places where a species can be found can be categorized into
two main groups: past areas of use (e.g., irrigation canals, anthro-
pogenic soils, mounds) and present areas of use (e.g., habitation
areas, homegardens, swiddens, fallows, high forests). As mentioned
previously, when ethnobiological methods are used in conjunction
with archaeological surveys, previously used and/or managed areas
can be defined much more accurately. Certain elements of archaeo-
logical sites are recognized by current local populations, who usu-
ally incorporate them into their daily activities. They can thus be
sought during interviews as particular landscape units. By coupling
this local recognition with available archaeological data, the distri-
bution and overlaps between modern and past land uses categories
can be compared across the archaeological site.
Semi-structured interviews were used by Machado Mello and
Peroni [60], in association with other methods, to investigate local
populations’ perceptions about cultural landscapes in Araucaria
196 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

forests of southern Brazil. Their interviews contained questions

regarding local ecological knowledge, management and uses of
resources on caı́vas, specific landscape units of the Araucaria forest
where animals are raised and plants are harvested by local people.
With this approach, they were able to identify transformations in
local resource use and management over the years and highlight the
role of human management for the conservation of these systems.
When applied to historical ecology, interviews must capture the
local understanding of the multiple temporalities present on the
landscape. Thus, the approach should be informed by the local
perceptions of the origins and the history of the cultural landscape
being studied, and their relationships with the current distribution
of plant species and communities. Forest patches dominated by
useful plants, for instance, may be interpreted by local people as
legacies of past human populations, as observed in our studies in
Amazonia (e.g., [3]). Local people also consider animals to be
responsible for the occurrence of forest patches, because they dis-
perse the majority of tropical plant seeds and are frequently
observed doing so. Our experiences in Amazonia have shown
that, especially when dealing with forest patches close to habitation
areas and cultivated fields, current residents can recall information
about who was responsible for planting them. In areas that have
been continuously occupied, historical knowledge of the landscape
can be very detailed and go well beyond the memory and/or
lifetime of local residents. Certain mythological narratives contain
references to specific plant origins, such as the allusion to the
guaraná (Paullinia cupana) domestication event in a myth by the
Sateré-Mawé people of Central Amazonia [61]. In addition,
anthropogenic forests are not interpreted by local people in isola-
tion from other evidence (whether material, such as ceramic frag-
ments, or cultural, such as oral history) considered to tell stories
about forests and landscapes. From these modern observations,
timelines can be projected for the histories of different plant species
and places in the landscape.
By assessing present uses and management practices of plant
resources and local perceptions about the landscape, historical
ecology is able to design scenarios of how people constructed
elements of the current landscape [62]. Recognizing the dynamic
nature of cultural practices and eliciting information about past uses
and management practices of natural resources enriches these sce-
narios. Careful interpretation of interviews is important when infer-
ring the temporal depth of the use and management of plant
resources observed in the present. Based on our experience in
Amazonia, we mention two examples:
– The current social/cultural/economic importance of the
species vs. the possible importance it may have had in the past.
These data can often be obtained in historical accounts and
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 197

ethnographies. For example, manioc (Manihot esculenta) is

widely cultivated and consumed by Amazonian populations in
the present, but may have had less cultural importance in the
diets of pre-Columbian populations [63, 64].
– The tools and management methods available in the past. In
Amazonia, the absence of metal tools in pre-Columbian socie-
ties suggests that slash and burn agriculture is a postcolonial
practice [65].

6 Accessing Local Oral History

Oral history techniques can be conducted through unstructured or

semi-structured interviews with broad stimuli about the collabora-
tors’ life story. This method reveals stories of recent times, which
are per se embedded in narratives and memories of different time
depths [66]. By narrating memories to others, one can create
symbolic networks, which strengthen the construction of identities
within a group linked by common events. In this manner, even
when facts were not experienced by the speaker, they can be signifi-
cant in his memory. Oral history recognizes the agency of people in
cocreating present realities [67] and “is based on awakening
people’s consciousness and strengthening pride in their own expe-
rience and identity” ([68], p. 3).
In the case of historical ecological research, thematic oral his-
tory, in which interviews are conducted around a central theme
[69], can be used to elicit the memories of the criteria used to select
a certain place for settling, its landscape dynamics, the changes that
have occurred in resource use and management, the presence of
prior communities/peoples and their activities, etc. Moreover, this
method can provide qualitative information about the symbolic
dimension of the interaction between local people and their
By accessing the memories related to transformations and
appropriations of the landscape, thematic oral history may be able
to fill in gaps, through specific information from collaborators’
reports. As an example, a former resident of Caiambé Lake
(in Central Amazonia) reported to us that when he first arrived in
the region some Amazonian Dark Earths in the area were filled with
concentrations of hog plum (Spondias mombin), a tree species less
common today in the local landscape. When analyzing charred
plant macroremains from an archaeological site in the region, we
found remains of this species, indicating its use by populations in
the past. By combining oral history with archaeological data, we
drew a time line of activities involving the use and management this
species at Caiambé Lake.
198 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

Archaeological sites awaken a myriad of feelings and represen-

tations in local populations, triggering different forms of interpre-
tation of the past. The life experiences of people living today on
archaeological sites form networks, where archaeological remains
gain meanings according to each one’s trajectories. The plants of
the present, with all their associated symbolic universe [43, 70], are
also interpreted according to personal and shared stories. By asses-
sing these representations, oral history complements academic
interpretations of archaeological sites and cultural landscapes
[43, 66].
The interview is the moment of an important encounter
between the researcher and the collaborator, when a relationship
of complicity is created for the production of a narrative [66]. Thus,
a number of rules of ethical conduct should be observed, as
described by Medeiros et al. [67] and the International Society
for Ethnobiology [71]. See Medeiros et al. [67] and Meihy [69]
for recommendations on the transcription, validation, and analysis
of the interviews.

7 Participatory Mapping of Past and Present Use Areas and Useful Plant

Participatory mapping is a tool that can be used for locating the

distribution of areas of past and present land use and the occurrence
of plant resources. Maps elaborated using this technique are impor-
tant representations of how people perceive their territory and the
elements they find to be meaningful [72]. Thus, they are also a tool
for community empowerment, as they emphasize local protagon-
ism in elaborating a research product that represents the collective
knowledge of the community, encompassing information from the
present day to an unknown time in the past [73]. Participatory
maps are particularly important for studies in historical ecology, as
they are efficient tools to elicit recent landscape history, efficiently
assessing changes in land use or in the distribution of plant
resources, through the production of maps representing the land-
scape in different periods [74].
Methods of mapping, and cartographic representations in gen-
eral, may be unfamiliar to members of many communities. Thus,
researchers have the responsibility to discuss their objectives, the
methods, the advantages and disadvantages, and basic elements of
cartography to the participants before beginning the mapping
[73, 75]. Further advice on researcher conduct for guiding parti-
cipants in the elaboration of maps can be sought in Silva et al. [75].
There are several ways to carry out participative mapping
[75]. We present two examples that we consider most suitable for
collecting of data while working on archaeological sites: mental
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 199

maps (sketches) and mapping over cartographic bases. Both can be

produced by working either with individuals or with groups. In the
case of the elaboration of individual maps, the researcher may also
construct a final map made by compiling those produced individu-
ally. When possible, the final product should be validated in a
workshop with the community.
Mental maps are cartographic representations that do not
require scale or formal references, such as geographical coordinates
[72]. They are handmade drawings and their production requires
simple material (e.g., A1 or A3 size paper and colored pencils). This
method does not seek exact measurements or consistent and geor-
eferenced scales, as the drawn representation is open to the author’s
perceptions of his/her reality [72]. Elements that are more signifi-
cant tend to receive greater emphasis in this kind of mapping.
For historical ecology approaches, mental mappings can be
applied to represent the local landscape in the recent past. The
researcher can ask, for instance, that older residents represent how
the landscape was organized when they were young (forested areas,
cultivated areas, dwelling areas, location of the main plant
resources, etc.). Another approach is to stimulate the representa-
tion of different elements of the archaeological site near or on
which they live (e.g., where can one find anthropogenic soils,
caves, earthworks, rock paintings, old cemeteries, etc.).
For mapping with cartographic bases, a printed and georefer-
enced base map or satellite image (preferably on large paper),
containing landscape features that can be easily identified is taken
to the community. Participants use the map to locate the informa-
tion they wish to represent, drawing with colored pencils over
tracing paper [75]. The base map must not influence the partici-
pants’ perceptions of significant areas or features, to ensure that
they represent objects/phenomena most related to their own
experiences [72]. However, basic elements, such as rivers, commu-
nity locations, and roads, should be indicated by the researcher to
improve the informants’ understanding of the scale and the loca-
tions of reference features. Since the drawings made by participants
are overlain on a georeferenced base map, all information produced
can be georeferenced.
This technique permits the investigation of landscape transfor-
mations up to the present, using the same logic as for mental maps.
For example, Verbicaro and Nunes [74] asked residents of a rural
community in the state of Pará, Brazil, to map the occurrence of
açaı́ (Euterpe oleracea) and miriti (Mauritia flexuosa) palm stands in
their community on several maps spanning 20 years. From this
procedure, the authors were able to identify changes in the abun-
dance and distribution of these species through time. Cartographi-
cally referenced maps are also important tools to locate cultural
forests, through the delimitation of patches of useful plants and the
patterns of species distributions on archaeological sites and in their
surroundings [3].
200 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

8 Guided Tours

Guided tours are also known as the field informant or “walk-in-the-

woods” technique [41]. They consist of walks with local informants
in community areas. Guided tours help to identify in the field plant
species and landscape units, besides providing the researcher with
the opportunity to observe management practices that had been
previously overlooked. They also allow for the identification and
recognition of elements within archaeological sites and plant spe-
cies that may be associated with these elements. It is recommended
that the tours are guided by local experts. Usually, these experts can
be identified during free listings or interviews [39]. However, in
some situations, community members themselves like to identify
the guides, and they may not necessarily meet the needs of the
research project. In these cases, we recommend making the tour
with more than one guide. As tours can take a long time, they must
be scheduled in advance according to the guide’s availability.
Guided tours allow integration of numerous research activities.
Researchers must record the amount of time spent on the tour;
record the trajectory traveled (via GPS); collect and take pictures of
plant specimens for botanical identification; georeference the speci-
mens of interest (e.g., useful species or those collected for botanical
collections); and name and characterize the landscape units visited.
To characterize landscape units we recommend documenting:
descriptions of the activities carried out in the area; period of use
or abandonment (e.g., crop age, years of fallow); soil type; popular
names and properties of useful plants; vegetation descriptions,
including notes about species dominance in the landscape; and
traces of recent and past occupations and activities, including
paths, signs of vegetation management, archaeological artifacts,
evidence of burning, anthropogenic soils, patches of useful trees
and palms.
Guided tours are important sources of information about the
local knowledge and perceptions of landscape units and useful plant
species. This method is usually a tool to complement interviews,
free lists and/or participatory mappings, in order to consolidate the
information obtained through other types of data collection.
Machado Mello and Peroni [60], for instance, conducted guided
tours with all the collaborators interviewed during their research on
the maintenance of cultural landscapes in the Araucaria forest, in
order to collect, identify and verify plant material mentioned during
the interviews.
With this method, many things that have been said and repre-
sented by research collaborators can be observed. In addition,
through the perception of the guide, new information can be
incorporated to understand the complexity of relationships
between people, plants, and landscapes.
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 201

9 Floristic Inventories

Previously, we showed how ethnobotanical methods can be applied

to historical ecology approaches in studies of landscapes and plant
communities that occur on archaeological sites. Here, we show
how the execution of floristic inventories on archaeological sites
and surrounding areas can be a complementary approach to the
methods presented above, in order to identify legacies of plant use
and management by past societies on modern landscapes.
Long-lived pioneer, useful, and domesticated species or species
that incidentally coevolved with cultural landscapes can be used as
indicators of human transformations [13, 45, 52]. These species’
distributions, however, are also influenced by natural conditions
(e.g., climate and soil), and our capacity to detect the effect of past
human influence on modern species distributions is limited by the
data available (either ecological or cultural). Reliable information
on the spatial distribution of plant species depends on good botan-
ical collections and proper floristic inventories. The execution of
floristic inventories provides a characterization of the structure of
plant communities that can be correlated to human perceptions,
values, habits, and modes of past and present resource use
[76]. Thus, the dataset generated during floristic inventories in
different landscape units is an important descriptor of the behavior
of plant communities in areas with different human activities.
Floristic inventories on archaeological sites and related areas
can complement information about useful plants associated with
past human activities [13, 77]. Indeed, some species that were used
in the past may no longer be recognized as useful in the present,
especially when one takes into account the common discontinuity
between past and current human societies. Another application of
systematic floristic inventories conducted in different archaeolog-
ical contexts and regions is the creation of databases containing
information about species that may be indicators of archaeological
sites in different regions, which could lead to the identification of
past cultural preferences.
The identification of the plant community of a given area is
necessary for fundamental ecological investigations, such as model-
ing patterns of species diversity and determining species distribu-
tions [78]. If the interpretation of archaeological structures/
remains can lead to the recognition of past land use patterns,
floristic inventories performed on these areas can be directly related
to long-term human history. Floristic inventories applied to histor-
ical ecology can follow different approaches. Here, we present some
of the possibilities for vegetation surveys that can contribute to
understanding the role of humans in shaping plant communities.
The decision about inventory plot size depends on the possi-
bilities offered by the study area and the analysis that will be
202 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

performed with the data collected. Traditionally, one-hectare plots

are established as a standard sample size for floristic inventories
[78]. However, depending on the goal of the survey, smaller plots
can be defined. Junqueira et al. [45], for instance, established
25  10 m plots, in order to avoid border effects when sampling
small patches of secondary forests on anthropogenic soils. Lins et al.
[79] inventoried the entire extension of homegardens, regardless of
their area. For investigation across wider areas, standard 1-ha plots
should be adopted (e.g., [77]) in order to facilitate comparisons
with other studies [76]. Especially in tropical communities, where
diversity and heterogeneity are high, when plots are small due to
constraints inherent to the research questions, sampling a larger
number of plots is highly recommended so that a sufficient number
of individuals have been sampled for a robust quantitative analysis.
The definition of the biological group (woody or herbaceous
individuals, lianas, etc.) and the size of sampled individuals (mini-
mum diameter at breast height—DBH) will depend on the objec-
tives of the research. Usually, in 1-ha plots, all stems with
DBH  10 cm are sampled. Despite the recommendation of 1-ha
plots as standard, Phillips et al. [78] showed that 0.1-ha plots are
more efficient in obtaining floristic information if all stems with
DBH  2.5 cm are inventoried. Following any sampling strategy,
rarefaction methods can be used for standardized comparisons with
other floristic studies, as discussed by Araújo and Ferraz [76]. Sub-
plots for the inventory of herbaceous plants can be designed when
necessary. Due to the economic importance of the Arecaceae family
and because they are good indicators of anthropogenic forests
[45, 80], we recommend the inclusion of palms in inventories of
historical ecological studies. For the correct identification of the
taxa sampled, it is recommended that vouchers be collected and
deposited in collections, prioritizing fertile material whenever
Floristic inventories per se provide a large amount of valuable
data. However, when floristic information is analyzed together with
environmental (e.g., soil) or ecological (e.g., functional traits, tree
growth rings) data, it is possible to obtain better and more detailed
insights to help reconstruct the history of the vegetation sampled.
Integrated analysis of these parameters will contribute to the assess-
ment of the human and environmental effects on plant distribu-
tions and compositions [13]. Furthermore, while performing
floristic inventories, the use of scientific literature to obtain ethno-
botanical data about the sampled species can provide complemen-
tary information about the species collected in the field. The
information about the uses, management, and other relevant data
about the history and distribution of plant species identified in
floristic inventories associated with archaeological sites may consti-
tute a basis for advances of interpreting the history of interactions
between human populations and their landscapes.
Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology Applied to Historical Ecology 203

Floristic inventories can also be performed during archaeolog-

ical excavations [46]. Based on the assumption that modern plant
communities may also be considered archaeological remains
[23, 24], floristic inventories of plots delimited around excavation
areas are complementary procedures to any archaeological inter-
vention for the systematic collection and registration of these “eco-
facts.” In this situation, the establishment of the sampling plots can
be determined according to the position of test pits and/or excava-
tion units. The analysis of floristic composition around an excava-
tion area, in combination with the analysis of other classes of
archaeological remains, will allow interpretation of the current
plant community in a more defined historical context. For further
discussion of the sampling methods and analysis of floristic data in
ethnobotanical studies see Araújo and Ferraz [76].

10 Final Considerations: The Integration of Archaeology and Ethnobiology

In the introduction of this chapter, we mentioned the contributions

made by archaeobotany and paleoecology to understand the his-
tory of human–plant interactions by (a) identifying which plants
were used and managed in the past, (b) identifying the environ-
mental context in which they were used, and (c) shedding light on
the scale and duration of landscape transformations. The accuracy
of archaeobotanical and paleoecological studies can be enhanced by
establishing a closer dialogue with ethnobiology. Drawing upon
ethnobotanical knowledge is essential to (a) provide information
about which species have current or historic uses in the region of
study, and therefore guide the elaboration of reference collections
for the identification of botanical remains; and (b) to record how
plants are used and processed by people, and thereby illuminate
possible scenarios of preservation and non-preservation of specific
plant remains in archaeological contexts. While drawing upon eth-
noecological knowledge holds numerous benefits for understand-
ing local historical ecology [81], current human land-uses provide
an important baseline from which the paleoecological record can be
interpreted. In the absence of “natural” vegetation baselines, one
must start from cultural landscapes and work backwards
[82, 83]. Thus, in the same way that archaeological data are impor-
tant for ethnobiological research to interpret cultural landscapes,
the interpretation of archaeological contexts benefits from the
understanding of present scenarios of management and use of
landscapes and plant resources.
The integration of ecological, paleoecological, and archaeolog-
ical studies is revealing that most of the apparently natural areas of
the planet have longer and more pronounced cultural histories than
assumed in the past [1]. Case studies illustrate examples of forest
recovery, forest enrichment with useful species, and the creation or
204 Mariana Franco Cassino et al.

maintenance of places that today are valued habitats, indicating that

the human history of appropriation of ecosystems can have positive
effects over biodiversity [25, 84, 85]. The integration of ethnos-
ciences with archaeology can offer models for understanding the
resilience of such current landscapes based upon their history [86].
Local populations are vital partners in this approach, as their knowl-
edge and practices reinforce ecosystem health that resulted from
thousands of years of human occupation [84, 87].


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Chapter 14

Challenges in Ethnozoological Research

Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves and Wedson Medeiros Silva Souto

Faunistic and cultural diversity reflects the range of interactions between people and animals, and thus
provides numerous opportunities for ethnozoological research. However, there are several challenges
associated with the development of this type of research program, which may deter researchers who are
interested in the area. In this chapter we discuss the methodological challenges and difficulties commonly
associated with conducting ethnozoological research, with an emphasis on the context of Brazil, and point
out potential suggestions on how such difficulties can be minimized.

Key words Ethnobiology, Ethnozoology, Voucher specimens

1 Introduction

Ethnobiological research alone represents a challenge for any

researcher who intends to develop studies in this area since it is a
multidisciplinary field of research, implying the need to master
concepts and methods of both natural and human sciences.
In the particular case of ethnozoology, there are additional
factors that increase the difficulties in performing research on the
subject. In the most diverse environments, of both urban and rural
areas, there is a great diversity of interactions between people and
animals, which provide numerous opportunities for ethnozoologi-
cal work that is of great importance to several areas of knowledge
[1]. Thus, it is fundamental that varied strategies be adopted to
overcome the challenges that are commonly associated with the
development of research in this area.
In this chapter, we briefly discuss some factors associated with
the challenges and difficulties of conducting ethnozoological
research, and provide some suggestions as to how such difficulties
can be minimized and overcome.

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

210 Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves and Wedson Medeiros Silva Souto

2 Legislation, Use, and Commerce Regarding Animals

The use and commercial trade of wild animals are activities that
occur on all continents, both in urban and rural areas [2–5]. Access
to, and the use of, wildlife resources in each country varies accord-
ing to local legislation, and is crucial for making people feel more or
less comfortable in talking about the interactions they establish
with them. Some of the factors that influence the acquisition of
knowledge about a species include whether the animal is domestic,
wild, protected by law, or a target of regulated hunting and fishing.
In Brazil, for example, federal legislation establishes that an indi-
vidual found killing, persecuting, capturing or using a wildlife
species, native or on a migratory route, without permission of the
competent authorities is subject to detention of 6 months to 2 years
and a fine. Furthermore, those that commercialize, offer for sale,
acquire, export, hold in captivity or transport such species may
suffer the same penalties. The penalty may be increased by up to
50% if the species involved are on lists of endangered animals. In
addition, abuse, mistreatment or injury of animals, wild or domes-
tic, native or exotic, justify the detention of 3 months to a year plus
a fine [6]. Thus, it can be seen that in situations such as these,
obtaining information from people interacting with animals in a
clandestine manner becomes more difficult.
Despite the legal implications and regulations, hunting and
consumption of wild animals persists on all continents [2, 7]. In
this scope—a cultural socioeconomic context in which legislation
regulates interactions with the fauna—there remain many cases
when legislation is admittedly incapable of preventing consumption
and commerce, even though it proposes to do so, eventually sti-
mulating conflicts and causing different users of products derived
from wild animals to do so clandestinely. Thus, many individuals do
not admit that they use or commercialize products derived from
fauna, knowing that this implies an illegal activity, which represents
an additional difficulty for carrying out ethnozoological studies.
The clandestine or semi-clandestine nature of the use and commer-
cialization of wild animals is one of the factors that certainly con-
tribute to the scarcity of detailed information on ethnozoology,
especially when it comes to wild animals for which there is no free
commerce [8].
The situation becomes even more difficult when research is
carried out in urban areas, where commerce of wild animals com-
monly occurs in public markets and free fairs [9–14]. In these
localities, inspections by environmental agencies are common,
resulting in the apprehension of products derived from wild animals
that are commercialized for different purposes, from products used
as food to live animals used pets. In this way, the researcher may be
Challenges in Ethnozoological Research 211

confused with an undercover prosecutor, and so is usually viewed

with suspicion by potential respondents.
In addition, the advance of modern technological resources in
tropical areas in recent years, such as the expansion of Internet and
mobile telephone services, has made it possible to increase contact
between hunters/collectors of wild fauna and other actors in the
market chain (e.g., market vendors, restaurant owners, final con-
sumers). This scenario has allowed the emergence of an intense and
rapid black chain of exploitation and commercialization of fauna,
making it difficult to locate and analyze the role of the agents
involved in illegal trade and places researchers and organizations
linked to ethnozoological research at risk.
For ethnozoological studies developed in this context, the
initial contact with the target population of the research is one of
the most difficult stages, since several factors can influence the
availability of people for interviews and follow-up activities of par-
ticipant observation. As in any ethnobiological research, establish-
ing trust in the target population is critical to the success of the
research. Thus, it is recommended that interviews start by explain-
ing the research in detail, and obtain authorization to conduct the
work. The introduction of the researcher by another person, such as
a local leader or a person who is respected in the community to be
studied, can facilitate approaching the interviewees and obtaining
information. Finally, during research involving illegal activities,
discrete behavior and friendly approaches are necessary factors for
guaranteeing the safety of the participants and increasing the
chances of good execution of field activities.

3 Obtaining Testimonial Material

Voucher specimens are fundamental components of ethnobiologi-

cal studies. They allow the accurate identification of the biological
material upon which observations and data are recorded. Thus, for
an ethnozoologist, voucher specimens are essential for the devel-
opment of quality work. Popular names vary widely depending on
the locale, so matching a common name with a scientific name is
not a reliable method of identification. Many ethnozoological
studies have only vernacular names or the identification of species
through “taxonomic clues,” which, although an alternative
resource for obtaining information, can often result in taxonomic
The absence of testimonial material is the main cause of a lack
of scientific rigor for many ethnobiological studies, especially those
that study invertebrates or fish, which require more careful identifi-
cation. Thus, from a current and future perspective, such research,
as well as the scientific journals in which it is published, must
acknowledge the need for collecting testimonial specimens and
212 Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves and Wedson Medeiros Silva Souto

their deposition in a scientific collection, which is one of the funda-

mental steps in the quest for qualitative improvement to ethnozoo-
logical studies. The correct species-level identification provides a
basis for comparing biological, ecological and ethnozoological
data. In addition, studies with adequate species identification
allow temporal comparisons of the occurrence and patterns of
fauna utilization in a given region.
Compared to ethnobotanical research, in which plants can
usually be obtained with relative ease, ethnozoological studies pos-
sess a higher degree of difficulty in collecting biological material.
Depending on the type of study, the difficulties of obtaining speci-
mens are diverse, especially when the study deals with a wide variety
of animal species or when only parts derived from the animals listed
in the research are available. Thus, the animal group to be investi-
gated has direct influence on the ways of obtaining the testimonial
material. For example, in ethnoichthyological work, fish can be
purchased directly from the fishermen involved in the research
[15, 16]. When the study involves different animal groups, the
difficulty increases, since the methods of collection are also variable.
In relation to work with hunters and fishermen, their knowledge
and the techniques they use can maximize the collection of testi-
monial specimens [17–19].
Whenever possible, specimens of each animal recorded in an
ethnozoological study should be collected, and can often be
acquired directly from the interviewees through donations or pur-
chase (in the case of commercialized species). For some animal
groups, parts derived from animals may, in many cases, enable the
identification of species. Very often interviewees (traders or users of
wildlife products) stock products derived from animals, such as
skulls and furs, used for medicinal, ornamental and magical-
religious purposes, while such parts are frequently discarded when
their use is for purposes of food, as is usually the case when the
product consumed is meat [20–23]. “Disposable” products can be
purchased from the interviewees. Skeleton elements, shells and
skins that allow the identification of many species of mammals,
reptiles, birds, and fish are commonly accepted as testimonial mate-
rial in zoological collections. In the case of invertebrates, shells of
mollusks and exoskeletons of corals are examples of materials that
can serve as testimony.
Obtaining specimens of large vertebrates (e.g., whales, bovines,
or large carnivores) present a high degree of difficulty both for their
collection and for their maintenance in scientific collections. Nor-
mally in such cases, as pointed out by Bye Jr. [24] exceptions are
made to the general rule that testimonial specimens are essential,
particularly when dealing with very large animals with universally
recognized identification. However, in some cases, when possible,
the collection of animal parts can be used as specimen testimony. If
it is not possible to obtain any part of the animal, a photograph or
Challenges in Ethnozoological Research 213

reference drawing may be sufficient. For example, a photo of a

stranded whale or dolphin that permits identification can be depos-
ited in the database of a scientific collection. Photographs of ani-
mals also allow the identification of certain species, and can be used
for some studies that address live animals, such as pet birds, which
obviously will not be donated by the interviewees.
For animal groups that vocalize, vocalizations, if properly docu-
mented, can provide all the essential requirements of a testimonial
specimen. Birds, for example, recognize each other by a variety of
specific vocalizations that can be used by researchers to identify
species quickly and practically, and in some cases can reveal sex,
age, and even subspecies. Considering that vocalizations are impor-
tant for the recognition of species of different groups, such as
amphibians, insects, and even certain mammals, the use of such
an approach isn’t limited to ethnoornithological investigations.
In the latter case, one can resort to taxonomic procedures, for
which the consultation of the specific bibliography (searching for
published works on the animals that have been carried out in the
region) and specialists, who work in local universities and know the
composition of the fauna of the studied region, is recommended.
The importance of testimonial specimens in ethnobiological
research has been repeatedly emphasized. A well-developed ethno-
zoological work, with the collection of testimonial material, not
only contributes to the quality of the research, mainly with regard
to biogeography, but also makes it possible to discover new species
and the expansion of the known geographic distribution of species
already described.

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4(1):1–13 6. Fernandes-Ferreira H, Alves RRN (2014) Leg-
2. Alves RRN, Souto WMS, Fernandes-Ferreira- islação e mı́dia envolvendo a caça de animais
H, Bezerra DMM, Barboza RRD, Vieira WLS silvestres no Brasil: uma perspectiva histórica
(2018) The importance of hunting in human e socioambiental. Gaia Sci 8(1):1–7
societies. In: RRN A, Albuquerque UP (eds) 7. Alves RRN, van Vliet N (2018) Wild fauna on
Ethnozoology: animals in our lives. Academic, the menu. In: RRN A, Albuquerque UP (eds)
London, pp 95–118 Ethnozoology: animals in our lives. Academic,
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ZA, D’cruze N, Macdonald DW (2013) 8. Alves RRN, Souto WMS (2011) Ethnozoology
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21:221–244 Folk Med 2013:25–42
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folk medicine: implications for conservation. to town: the use of animal-based remedies in
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PFGP et al (2012) A zoological catalogue of introduction to zoological taxonomy and the
hunted reptiles in the semiarid region of Brazil. collection and preparation of zoological speci-
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tegies used in the semi-arid region of
Chapter 15

Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods:

Old, Current, and Future Knowledge
Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel, Luciana Martins, Aloisio Cabalzar,
Claudia Leonor López-Garcés, Márlia Coelho-Ferreira,
Pieter-Jan van der Veld, William Milliken, and Mark Nesbitt

Biocultural collections document human–nature interactions through plant and animal-based artifacts, raw
materials, herbarium voucher collections, and varied forms of documentation. They form a valuable
resource for biocultural conservation, preserving and enhancing traditional knowledge, livelihoods, and
the environment. They should be used through participatory methods that allow institutional researchers
and local communities to share data on ethnobiological collections and artifacts, enabling new knowledge
of plants and people from multiple perspectives. Methods are demonstrated through a case study of historic
ethnobotanical specimens collected by Richard Spruce in the northwest Amazon.

Key words Indigenous biocultural knowledge (IBK), Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), Eth-
nobiology, Ethnobotany, Brazil

1 Biocultural Collections

Biocultural collections are ethnobiological specimens, artifacts, and

documents—plant, animal, and cultural—that represent the
dynamic relationships between peoples, biota and environments
[1]. They are repositories for plants and animals used by people,
products made from them, and information about them, also
including objects not made of vegetal or animal material, but
used in the processing of these materials. Ethnobiology is a
dynamic field that relates processes, transformations and associa-
tions, and biocultural collections are therefore more than a “collec-
tion of objects.” Documentation of provenance, language, images,
use, local meanings, processing and ethnographic context, and of
interconnections between different forms of specimens, is critically
important [2].

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

216 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

Biocultural specimens can include: herbarium, xylarium and

zoological specimens, with label information on use, preparation,
common name or other cultural and linguistic information; seeds of
plants, fruits, roots, leaves, flowers, bark, tubers, animals, horns,
bones, skin, hair, etc.; vegetable and animal products and processes
e.g. clothing (vegetable and animal fibers), commercial and medic-
inal food, religious artifacts, toys, vegetable and animal products
(varnish, starch, latex, resins, waxes, oils, essential oils etc.); ethno-
graphic materials and cultural artifacts; DNA collections of useful
plants and animals and their wild relatives; living collections (in situ
and ex situ collections of plants and animals); archaeological plant
and animal remains; biocultural documentation (information from
libraries and archives, cultural texts, narratives, field research notes,
maps, audios, photo and video files) [1].
Biocultural collections became popular in the mid-nineteenth
century, particularly as a means of recording information about
plant and animal uses that might be valuable to industrial econo-
mies. They were often closely associated with colonial botany. The
Museum of Economic Botany at Kew, founded in 1847, was the
model for many such museums worldwide. From the 1950s the
decline in empire, and rise of oil-based products, led to the closure
of most such collections. However, in the last two decades it has
become clear that such biocultural collections, whether old or
newly formed, can play an important part in the modern work of
the ethnobiologist [1].

2 Collaborative Research

Biocultural conservation addresses the loss of biological and cul-

tural diversity. It is grounded in the theory of dynamic and interde-
pendent socio-ecological systems, in the lessons of work on
diversity and biocultural heritage, integrated conservation and
development, co-management, and community-based conserva-
tion [3]. If well used, biocultural approaches to conservation can
be a powerful tool to reduce the overall loss of biological and
cultural diversity. Biocultural collections are applicable to many
aspects of biocultural conservation (Fig. 1).
In the scope of biocultural conservation and biocultural collec-
tions, there are important debates on the nature of collaborative
processes with local communities [4]. Intercultural collaborative
research is complex; it requires a constant dialogue as it articulates
diverse epistemic and ontological concepts leading to “co-theori-
zation”, facilitating the participation of all researchers in generating
“new conceptual tools that make contemporary realities meaning-
ful” [5]. Fortunately, there is substantial experience of community
collaboration in conservation and in museum collections on which
we can draw [3, 6]. Non-indigenous researchers should be attuned
Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 217

Fig. 1 Biocultural collections serve applied research, plant conservation, animals and traditional knowledge,
natural resource management, economic and social development, education and community service. Adapted
from [1]

to the necessity of working side-by-side with indigenous partici-

pants in all phases of research, beginning with the elaboration of
projects, defining themes and objectives, fieldwork (which is not
merely data collection), and “space of conceptualization” [5]. Like-
wise, the coauthoring of work and sharing the resultant benefits are
imperative when working with traditional knowledge associated
with biodiversity.
218 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

3 Case Study: The Northwest Amazon

The Northwest Amazon comprises a large region of equatorial

forest on the border of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela, which
has been inhabited by indigenous peoples since the pre-colonial
period. Today they occupy 80% of its area. The region is known as a
multiethnic social system comprising about thirty linguistic groups
from three linguistic families. The Eastern Tukanoan and Arawak
peoples are riparian and farmers, whereas the Maku are more
mobile, exploring more dispersed resources in interfluvial areas.
This area is characterized by serious ecological limitations: acid
soils and waters, nutrient-poor and of low productivity, and exten-
sive areas covered by Amazonian caatinga, which is very restrictive
for agricultural practices. These two factors—antiquity of occupa-
tion and serious ecological limitations—have led the indigenous
peoples to a long process of adaptation, finding effective and
sophisticated forms of management of the land, forests and agricul-
ture, fish and game.
Some travellers, like Richard Spruce who visited the region in
the nineteenth century, described the vitality and dynamics of these
populations, demonstrated by the size of their longhouses, their
extensive intercommunal ceremonies, and their rich material cul-
ture. This regional social system underlies the constitution of con-
temporary indigenous organization and of their federation
(Federação das Organizações Indı́genas do Rio Negro—FOIRN).
Major issues include environmental management, community well-
being, territorial governance, education, and health care. The use
of plant resources is a key priority, both for human livelihoods and
the maintenance of ecosystem services. Important and potentially
valuable information relevant to this challenge is contained in
biocultural collections held both within and outside Brazil.
Unlocking this potential requires an integrated, equitable approach
to collections research, and the capacity to develop platforms for
transmission of information to a wide range of end users.
Beginning in 2015, a collaboration between indigenous
peoples in the region and institutions in Brazil and the UK has
been based on nineteenth century ethnobotanical specimens, col-
lected by the botanist Richard Spruce, and housed at the Royal
Botanic Gardens, Kew and the British Museum (Box 1; Fig. 2)
[7, 8]. A diachronic approach to such research facilitates a better
understanding of the shifting relationships between people and
natural resources, with potentially important implications for the
Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 219

Fig. 2 (a) Detail of herbarium specimen of tururi (Brosimum utile (Kunth) Pittier), collected by Richard Spruce in
São Gabriel da Cachoeira in 1852 (No. 2144; barcode K000947729); (b) Demonstration of bark extraction
today; (c) Tanga made of tururi from the Rio Uaupés, collected by Richard Spruce (EBC 42839); (d) Exchanging
information about Richard Spruce collections during workshop; (e) Practising interviewing in the field.
Courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (a, c); Luciana Martins (b, e) and Adeilson Lopes da Silva (d)
220 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

Box 1 Example of a participatory study conducted by Jardim

Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (JBRJ), Instituto Socioambiental
(ISA), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Birkbeck (University of
London), Federação das Organizações Indı́genas do Rio
Negro (FOIRN) and Museu Paraense Emı́lio Goeldi
(MPEG), supported by Newton Fund (Institutional Skills)
from the government of the UK. The activities reported took
place in 2016–2017:
Study area—Brazil, Northwest Amazonian, Upper Rio Negro,
São Gabriel da Cachoeira.
l To build capacity among Brazilian research institutes to
research, catalogue, and mobilize data from biocultural col-
lections, and to develop these important resources for
improved understanding of the useful and cultural properties
of plants.
l To build capacity among indigenous peoples to research and
document traditional knowledge, combining techniques
from standard scientific practice with indigenous perspectives.
Participatory research—The training program included four
main elements.
1. Integrated collections research and knowledge transfer
through hands-on research at Kew, working with Richard
Spruce’s collections from the Brazilian Amazon. Staff from
JBRJ were trained in current methods of curation and com-
munity use of biocultural collections.
2. At JBRJ, building capacity for enhancement of an existing
platform (currently focused on plant specimens—
REFLORA), extending its value as a key Brazilian biocul-
tural resource and opening opportunities for integration of
data from other collections.
3. Capacity building in integrated collections research and
mobilization among a range of Brazilian organizations,
while strengthening interinstitutional collaboration and
knowledge-sharing within Brazil (1-week training course
delivered in Rio de Janeiro, applying Brazil- and UK-based
expertise while drawing on specialist knowledge and exper-
tise among the trainees).
4. Development of skills in autonomous biocultural research
and interpretation/education among indigenous commu-
nities in the Upper Rio Negro, building on the Instituto
Socioambiental’s existing program in the region. The main
activity was a training course for indigenous researchers held
in São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Richard Spruce’s collections,
many of which originated from this region, were used as

Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 221

Box 1 (continued)
source material for part of the training, alongside a focus on
contemporary material culture and plant use. The workshop
in São Gabriel da Cachoeira was followed by a 5-month field
research program, supported by ISA, assisting indigenous
trainees to put their new learning into practice in the context
of projects focused on sustainable resource use, and docu-
menting/valuing traditional knowledge and practices.

4 Plant Identification

Identification of plants used in the production of biocultural collec-

tions requires a numbered voucher specimen (preferably housed
permanently in a herbarium) relating to the occurrence of a plant
in a given place, its respective indigenous names, and its uses [8].
Ideally the plant should be fertile (e.g., with flowers or fruits), as
this can help taxonomists identify the species. It is useful to produce
high resolution photography of the plant, not only to assist
taxonomists but also because these may be used in displays, pub-
lications, and materials for local communities. Carefully photo-
graphing the plant collections in a systematic process (e.g.,
photographing the environment; the whole plant; part of the
plant with leaves and flowers/fruits; leaves; flowers; fruits; seed;
bark) is important. With access to a digital scanner, plants can be
scanned and sent quickly to botanical experts. Avoid mixing up
photos of plants: one suggestion is to take a first picture of just the
collecting number, and then of the plant images relating to it. Also,
it is best to note the photo numbers on the specimen data form.
The unique specimen voucher number should be connected to all
related data: notes, recordings, biocultural collections etc., assuring
the quality of the botanical identification. Richard Spruce was a
pioneer in collecting herbarium voucher specimens in connection
with artifacts, and recent work at Kew has enabled ethnobotanical
specimens to be reconnected with herbarium material and correctly
named, despite the passage of 170 years.

5 Raw Materials and Manufacture

Biocultural collections have a strong emphasis on the type of raw

material utilized (fibers, dyes, fruits, seeds, inner bark, exudates,
etc.). It should be collected with data on selection criteria for the
plant, when and how it was collected (e.g., perennially or season-
ally); who collected the plant (men or women); what procedures
were used after gathering (washed, ground, sun-dried or shade-
222 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

dried, storage techniques, etc.); and how it is transported. In

relation to the plants providing the raw materials, further data
include: the name of the location where it was encountered, its
characteristics (life form, height, odor, taste, color, and texture of
its flowers, leaves, fruits, bark; presence of exudates, etc.), location
(upland forest, várzea, etc.), if the plant is abundant or rare (its
conservation status), and the part of the plant that is collected. If
the raw material was obtained by another person, it should be noted
whether it was given or purchased, and in the latter case, its price. It
is also useful to record which other plants can be used for a given
purpose, as well as those being immediately gathered.
Recording the making of an object should be done through
drawings, photographs and/or video recordings, embracing all
phases of production. If possible, the object should be recorded
at its various stages of completion, concentrating on the ‘points of
transition’ [8]. Yet beyond these technical aspects of the fabrication
process, it is equally important to inquire about the sociocultural
aspects associated with the crafting of the artifact. Research should
document who made the artifact (men, women, young, elderly,
clans, age groups, etc.), including gender, generation, and social
organization. In this respect, it is very important to document if the
person elaborating the artifact are observing dietary and sexual
taboos, among other acts. It is also important to inquire about
where and when the artifact should be made, its appropriate space
(domestic, ritual, natural environment) and timing (season, moon,
ritual calendar, etc.). It is vital that the name and its meaning or
significance is recorded in its local language, and if it is made with
various parts, also note their respective names [2].

6 Documenting the Use of Artifacts

One of the first tasks is to identify the type of use designated for the
object, addressing diverse categories (domestic, body ornamenta-
tion, musical instruments, toys, ritual uses, among others). Object
use is also associated with gender (men, women), generation
(young, elderly, others) and social organization (clan, age grade,
etc.). It is also important to indicate who uses the artifact (men,
women, clan or specific social group, age), and in the case of objects
specifically used in rituals, restrictions or prohibitions in handling
them. In the northwestern Amazon, there is an artisanal specializa-
tion among ethnic groups [9]. For example, the Tukano specialize
in the manufacture of wooden benches, the Tuyuka and Bará in the
fabrication of canoes, the Hupda in making the baskets used to
carry cassava, and the Desana and Baniwa in basketry of various
types and uses. Curare poison is made by the Maku peoples and the
Makuna. Likewise, one should register: special uses and
Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 223

preparations; when to use; how they should be employed; and for

what end.
Another aspect that should be documented regarding ritual
objects is whether they should be used alone, or in combination
with other objects to give them cultural significance. Various types
of objects and instruments can be used together in certain contexts.
For example, in the northwestern Amazon, ornaments used in
ceremonies are composed of several parts that are stored together
in a box made with the sewn fibre. This fibre is derived from the
leaves of a palm tree which has a very restricted distribution across
the region.
With this, we emphasize the importance of recording as much
detail related to the object and especially its cultural meanings, such
as ceremonial use objects. We need to be careful in the record,
exemplified by a testimony (current) of a Tukano Indian, who
reported that he was shocked when he saw a Tukano bench—an
important object in their culture, where the elders sit down to tell
stories—in the bathroom of an apartment in São Paulo. We need to
register, transmit and respect the local cultural significance of the

7 Documenting Biocultural Collections

Biocultural artifacts exhibit two interrelated dimensions that need

to be studied, analyzed, and documented in the research process,
namely, the biological and cultural dimensions. The biological
dimension is primarily linked to the raw materials, mostly from
plant material (wood, leaves, fiber, resins, oils, etc.), and animals
(feathers, bones, teeth, hides, and skins) comprising these objects.
Occasionally, though currently infrequently in the northwest Ama-
zon, artifacts can also consist of human material (hair, teeth, and
Documenting cultural artifacts aims to situate and contextual-
ize objects in the world in which they were produced. In this sense,
an ethnographic approach can document sociocultural aspects asso-
ciated with these objects: “a classic analysis of ethnographic objects
embraces four main aspects: raw materials, crafting techniques,
their formal aspect, and functions” [10]. As such, as pointed out
by van Velthem, “it is unfathomable to study artifact without con-
sidering their aesthetic and economic aspects as well as their episte-
mological significance” [10]. Likewise, Silva and Gordon [11]
propose analyzing the “material, environmental, historical and sig-
nificant” aspects of these objects.
The cultural dimension is related to human intervention in the
process of crafting the artifact; this involves a series of interactions
and knowledge beginning with the selection of raw materials and
their extraction from the environment, handling, the techniques
224 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

involved in crafting and finishing, their social dimension in crafts-

manship, utilization and meaning of the artifacts, considerations in
the shelf life, the agency and potential of these objects. Objects
occupy a special place in Amerindian cosmology, with qualities that
go beyond materiality such as agency and power [12]. These attri-
butes need to be documented, by interviewing people working on
these objects and those familiar with myths and tales that detail the
origins of these artifacts. Questions about narratives, chants and
associated rituals, and their importance in the lives of indigenous
people should also be addressed. In this way, it is possible to
unearth the ontological dimensions of these objects, their aesthetic
qualities, and features contributing to their beauty.
In collaborative research on ethnographic objects with indige-
nous peoples of the Amazon at the Goeldi Museum (Belém),
“conversations about objects” are generally initiated by document-
ing raw materials followed by production aspects of the objects,
considering the person involved in crafting it and the descriptions
about elaboration techniques. In turn, details are provided about
the use of the object, who utilizes it, how it is used, why it is used, if
it is still in use, and if there is a history or narrative associated with
it [13].

8 Digital Repatriation and Indigenous Knowledge

Digital repatriation projects may promote the safeguarding of

indigenous knowledge through the integration of scientific docu-
mentation, notes, images and vouchers (botanical material). This
kind of dynamic, complementary, and integrated data may reinvig-
orate traditional practices and maintain the culture and the ways of
life. This may have an impact on technological changes and cultural
needs on individual communities, as well as regional and interna-
tional networks (Box 2).

Box 2 Example of repatriation and sharing of information

previously stored in scientific collections:
The REFLORA Project, in which Kew and JBRJ are major
partners, has made great progress in repatriating important
botanical collections and data held outside the country, contri-
buting to the development of greatly enhanced understanding of
Brazil’s plant diversity. The project initially focused on herbar-
ium specimens collected in Brazil but now housed in museums
around the world. However, its scope has now increased to
include the 300 ethnobotanical artifacts collected by Richard
Spruce and housed in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection. In

Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 225

Box 2 (continued)
future it may expand to include manuscripts associated with
Spruce and other past botanists.
The data and images of artifacts and plant samples have been
repatriated and are now accessible on a free platform—the Her-
bario Virtual Reflora (URL link to, being
made available digitally to the descendants of the peoples visited
by Spruce for more than a century, as well as the public in
The research on the Rio Negro reported here has also
disseminated results to different audiences in other ways:
l A training manual on biocultural research, published initially
in Portuguese, the Manual de Etnobotânica: Plantas, Artefa-
tos e Conhecimento Indı́gena [8] (also available online), is
now being translated into Tukano and Baniwa languages. In
addition to giving visibility to this pioneering research pro-
gram, the manual responds to the requests of local indigenous
schools and organizations for research tools to develop their
botanical knowledge.
l A video based on the footage shot at the São Gabriel da
Cachoeira workshop and in the Kew collections. Luciana
Martins and the Derek Jarman Lab at Birkbeck, produced a
video entitled The Many Lives of a Shield (available online at Cross-referencing Kew sources
including manuscripts, herbarium samples and publications,
the video provides glimpses of the stories told by the peoples
of the Rio Negro about the ceremonial shield and the raw
materials used to produce it, including the cosmologies asso-
ciated with them. They also produced a video documenting
the main activities of the workshop (
l An exhibition at Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical
Art entitled “Plantae Amazonicae” by Kew artist-in-residence
Lindsay Sekulowicz. Supported by Arts Council England, the
exhibition ran from October 2017 until March 2018 to
record audiences (>75,000). The exhibition represented
Sekulowicz’s own encounters with Spruce’s ethnobotanical
artifacts, herbarium specimens, and notebooks. Her artworks
were juxtaposed with indigenous objects (including the shield
video) and Spruce’s field observations. The exhibition made
tangible to a non-indigenous, international audience the link
between Amazonian plants, artifacts, history, indigenous
knowledge, and contemporary art.
226 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

9 Notes on Fieldwork

The majority of researchers who are interested in ethnosciences

have either received a training in an ‘exact’ science, like botany, or
a training in a social science such as anthropology. Few have
received training in both spheres of science. A good ethnoscientist
needs to be an autodidact, to fill up the gap in formal education.
Seeking council from a specialist in the other sphere of sciences is
advisable. This is especially the case for a researcher with a training
in exact science. The basics of botanical science are pretty much the
same the world over, but local cultures can vary greatly, even among
neighboring groups.
Practical tips can be acquired through conversations with peo-
ple who have worked and/or lived with the people of the culture
that are being studied. If the aspiring ethnoscientist wants to
acquire an object, or indeed some fresh food, what should he pay
for it with? Barter, money, or both. If barter can be used, what type
of goods can be used? If money, what is the average value of a
basket, a fish, or a pineapple? If offered a drink during a party, can
you refuse, must you drink the whole cup, or can you just take a sip?
This is valuable information and will not normally be found in the
Of course, permission must be obtained from the institutions
representing the state, but also from the leaders of the local com-
munities. It is a mistake to think that official permission is enough.
Even when in contact with local ‘leaders’, it is possible that they do
not have real authority (in the sense that they can command). The
‘spokesman’ of a culture, communicating with the outside world,
are often people who speak the official language of the country
(e.g., Spanish or Portuguese) and have received some
non-traditional education (e.g., a schoolmaster). This does not
necessarily mean that they are the leaders. Always try to explain,
as often as possible, what you are intending to do, preferably in
community meetings.
Who owns the traditional knowledge from local communities,
and how can it be used? This is a complex problem, which is now
governed by interdisciplinary protocols (e.g., Convention on
Biological Diversity, Nagoya Protocol), national research rules,
and local peoples. This is a complicated area. The “maker” of a
biocultural collection may own it, be happy to share his knowledge,
and be happy to trade it. Others, from the same community, may
see this information as a key part of their culture, requiring a wider
decision regarding intellectual property rights. Prior Informed
Consent is important for working with local peoples, but who
should sign it is another question. And how should the data be
used? Ideally a full, collaborative partnership between scientists and
local peoples, with clear protocols and outputs, should be clear at
Biocultural Collections and Participatory Methods: Old, Current, and. . . 227

the start. Where should biocultural collections be located (e.g.,

museums), and/or should they be kept in the community? How
can the data help support education, health, nutrition, sustainabil-
ity, and incomes? How can previous collections and data (e.g., those
collected by Richard Spruce) be used to support the outcomes?
How to present the data in a format that is useful, and
Collecting plant specimens usually requires a permit, at least in
scientific research. You can collect them, photograph them, scan
them, make objects from them. . . but modern herbaria require
authorisation. For local people involved in collaborative research,
you therefore probably need to involve a trained botanist. Taking
specimens away for identification is important, but ideally one
should keep duplicate specimens within the community. This is
difficult, particularly in humid areas without electricity. Producing
high-resolution images of the specimens may be preferable.
Collecting herbarium specimens as a ‘voucher’ for ethnobotan-
ical recording should, ideally, be stored permanently in the Herbar-
ium. In the future, another researcher (taxonomist, ethnobotanist,
botanist) can check the identification in accordance with the new or
updated taxonomies. However, in some cases the voucher may be
sterile (without flowers of fruits). In most cases these sterile speci-
mens can be identified to species, but many herbaria will not them
in the collection. Storing them in boxes on the office may work (for
a while), but eventually they will probably be thrown away. One
answer is to scan the specimens (at high resolutions) and then store
them on an institutional database or website. Ideally, a multi-insti-
tutional database for ethnobotanical vouchers could be set up,
allowing us to compare the collections and uses between other
Aspiring ethnoscientists, working with local people, must not
fall in the trap of seeing the people of the culture as mere ‘infor-
mants’. Seeing “traditional” people as coworkers is more efficient,
more revealing, and more respectful. Seeking informal conversa-
tions while eating, resting, or preparing to sleep can reveal insights
and information that will not appear in formal interviews. Explain-
ing the scientific perspective of the things, alongside “traditional”
explications, can be useful to establish a more informal relationship
with local coworkers. Paying locals for gathering data may be
problematic, as others in the community may feel they are left
out. However, by trying to engage more people in the research
(albeit not as coworkers) may help to resolve this. Indigenous
people are often very interested in “western” knowledge, and
eager to learn more about this, though this does not mean that
the scientific explanation will be accepted without questioning.
In the present day of scientific research, field periods are rather
short. Gone are the days of the naturalist (e.g., Spruce and Bates)
where researchers stayed many months or even years in the field. It
228 Viviane Stern da Fonseca-Kruel et al.

takes time to establish a more relaxed working relationship with

local people, to dismantle initial distrust, to work out the right
methodology of research, and to find out the nuances of a certain
culture. Perhaps the best method to overcome this problem is to try
to join one project proposal with another, creating a string of
projects with the same people working on the same or similar
objects/subjects. If possible, the first project should be more
educational-orientated than science-orientated.


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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Organizações Indı́genas do Rio Negro, São
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Salick J, Konchar K, Nesbitt M (eds) Curating 9. Ribeiro BG (1995) Os ı́ndios das águas pretas.
biocultural collections: a handbook. Royal Companhia das Letras, São Paulo
Botanic Gardens, Kew 10. van Velthem LH (2012) Objeto etnográfico é
3. Gavin MC, McCarter J, Mead A et al (2015) irredutı́vel? Pistas sobre novos sentidos e aná-
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Nesbitt M (2017) Manual de etnobotânica:
Chapter 16

Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological

Sofia Zank, Rafaela Helena Ludwinsky, Graziela Dias Blanco,
and Natalia Hanazaki

In this chapter, we present and clarify the main protocols and ethical considerations for the development of
ethnobiological research. We present the context in which such guidelines emerged, the operational aspects
that should be observed, and the future challenges related to this issue.

Key words Legal aspects, Code of ethics, Law 13123, Traditional knowledge, Indigenous peoples
and local communities

1 Introduction

After years of discussions on human rights, ethics in science, and

access to knowledge and rights of indigenous and traditional
peoples, we need to analyze the tools we have and how we use
them to ensure an ethical commitment in research [1–3]. The
development of ethnobiological and ethnoecological research
must respect international and national laws and ethical precepts
aimed at respecting human beings, the environment, and the rights
of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) and family
farmers in relation to their traditional knowledge associated with
biodiversity and to the genetic resources they manage and innovate.
Before approaching the legal and ethical issues, we give an
overview about the context that gave rise to the legislation related
to environmental protection and genetic heritage, to the rights of
IPLC, and to human rights in general. Thus, we first address a brief
history of the regulation of the ethical and legal aspects of ethnobi-
ological research through international and national frameworks
(Fig. 1). Subsequently, we present the procedures that must be
followed by researchers according to the ethical guidelines of the

Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque et al. (eds.), Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology,
Springer Protocols Handbooks,,
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

230 Sofia Zank et al.

United Nations
on the Rights American
of Indigenous Declaration
CBD (1992) Peoples (2006) on the Rights
of Indigenous
ISE - Code of Peoples (2016)
Ethics (2006)

C169 - Indigenous
International Milestones and Tribal Peoples IT (2001)
Convention (1989)

ICMSO Nagoya
Nurenberg Declaration of ISE
Guidelines Protocol
code (1947) Helsinki (1964) (1988)
(1993) (2010)

Brazilian Milestones

SNUC - Decree Decree
Brazilian Federal Law -
LAW 9.985 6040 8.772
Constitution (1988) 13.123
(2000) (2007) (2016)


Fig. 1 Timeline with the main international and national legal marks about ethical and legal procedures in
ethnobiological research

International Society for Ethnobiology (ISE), of other related

documents, and of the Brazilian legislation.
It is common for researchers who have never worked with
human beings to feel confused and even discouraged because of
the amount of information, procedures, and legal devices taken into
account in the research. In this chapter, we present practical guide-
lines on these procedures for ethnobiological research, and we
provide step-by-step procedures with some remarks at the end.

1.1 International The tripod formed by the Nuremberg Code (1947), the Declara-
Milestones tion of Helsinki (1964), and the Guidelines for Research on
Human Beings of the International Council of Medical Sciences
Organizations (ICMSO) [4] directs the discussions about freedom
and people’s consent in research. The ethical attention and con-
cerns for the consent of participation in research came first in the
health studies. The trial of crimes committed by Nazi physicians in
World War II aroused discussions about the position and voice of
the patient, once the oath of Hippocrates had been broken for the
benefit of a state. These discussions resulted in the Nurenberg
Code in 1947, in which the first topic manifests free will in parti-
cipating in research [5, 6]. To ensure this essential consent, the
declaration of Helsinki (1964) implements the following items into
the medical routine: a clear explanation of the objectives of the
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 231

treatments applied, the risks and benefits, and the free will to
participate and withdraw from the research at any time. In 1993,
the International Council for International Organizations of Med-
ical Sciences, in collaboration with the World Health Organization,
created ethics committees to review projects and research
protocols [4].
With a convergence in relation to ethical precepts, the advance-
ment of discussions on access to traditional knowledge and benefit
sharing came later with the Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Interna-
tional Treaty, and the Nagoya Protocol. The rights of indigenous
peoples are specifically addressed in International Labour Organi-
zation (ILO) Convention 169, the American Declaration of Indig-
enous Peoples, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples. From these international milestones, each
signatory country has been developing its specific legislation and
procedures to address these issues.
The CBD is an instrument of international law that was agreed
upon at the United Nations meeting in 1992. The CBD addresses
all issues that directly or indirectly relate to biodiversity, serving as a
legal and policy framework for other specific environmental con-
ventions and agreements. Within the CBD, for the first time, the
importance of IPLC in the conservation of biodiversity and their
rights in relation to the knowledge they have produced about
biodiversity and the genetic heritage they have conserved and
innovated were recognized. In addition to instituting the notion
that genetic resources should sovereign to the countries in which
they are located, this milestone also mentions the fair and equitable
distribution of the benefits derived from the utilization of genetic
resources and associated knowledge [1]. The International Treaty
on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT PGRFA,
or simply IT) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO) was signed in Rome in 2001. Today, it is
intrinsically linked to the CBD. While the CBD deals with native
biodiversity, the IT deals with agricultural biodiversity [7]. The
objective of the IT is conservation and sustainable use of plant
genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits derived from their use for sustainable agri-
culture and food security [7]. The 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which
has been in force since 2014, is a supplementary agreement to the
CBD and seeks to achieve the objectives of the CBD and IT. Prior
informed consent and agreements on the fair and equitable sharing
of benefits are fundamental elements, in addition to the recognition
of customary laws and procedures and the traditional use and
exchange of genetic resources [8]. The Nagoya Protocol was signed
by Brazil, but it has not been ratified, and in this way, it still has no
force of law in our country.
232 Sofia Zank et al.

Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization

(ILO), signed in 1989, is the most important international policy
document dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and
tribal peoples. Convention 169 affirms rights concerning the iden-
tity, traditionally occupied territories, and the rights of participation
of indigenous peoples in the use, management, and conservation of
their territories, including free, prior, and informed consultation.
Brazil ratified the convention in 2002 through Decree 5051 of
2004. The United Nations declaration of December 20, 2006,
was another important milestone for the rights of indigenous
peoples in Latin America. Since then, the individual rights of each
indigenous person have been recognized as equal to that of all other
citizens of each nation. In addition, it highlighted the importance
of safeguarding and recognizing the cultural distinctions of indige-
nous communities as unique. Among the duties that states have
with their indigenous peoples are the provision of access to quality
public schooling and health and the protection and encouragement
of cultural practices. Also concerning indigenous peoples, the
American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(ADRIP) by the Organization of American States (OAS) promotes
and protects the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Approved in 2016, this statement took 17 years to be written and
approved. ADRIP addresses four new themes: (1) recognition and
respect for the multicultural and multilingual nature of indigenous
people; (2) recognition of the different forms of community orga-
nization; (3) the recognition and right of indigenous peoples to
maintain and promote their own family systems; and (4) freedom of
choice for indigenous children, which ensures that each child must
have the right to enjoy her/his own culture, religion, or language
[9]. Another important point is related to indigenous communities
that are isolated or in a state of initial contact and that have the right
to remain in this condition and to live freely and according to their
Within the scope of ethnobiological studies, the Declaration of
Belém (1988) is recognized as the main international milestone
that guides the ethics code of the International Society for Ethno-
biology (ISE). This declaration also influenced other documents,
such as the Code of Ethics of the Sociedad Latino Americana de
Etnobiologı́a (SOLAE) [10] and the Tkarihwaié:ri Code of Ethics
Conduct [1].

1.2 National Supported by the discussions on the international scenario, the

Milestones: The National Health Council (linked to the Brazilian Ministry of
Brazilian Context Health) has standardized the research guidelines in the field of
health and established ethics committees in human research since
1988. More recently, the guidelines for research with human beings
in the health area were extended to research with human beings in
other areas, especially through the Resolutions of the National
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 233

Health Council 466/2012 and 510/2016. The latter resolution,

for example, defined rules that are applicable to research in the
social sciences and humanities in which the methodological proce-
dures involve the use of data directly obtained from participants.
Nevertheless, it is common to find scientific articles in which the
consent to participate in the research is not mentioned [11].
Regarding the environment, the legal mark of the Federal
Constitution of 1988 ensures a specific chapter (article 225) that
imposes the duty to defend and preserve the environment on the
public authority and the community. The responsibilities of public
authorities include the preservation of the diversity and integrity of
the genetic heritage of the country, the supervision of entities
dedicated to the research and manipulation of genetic material,
and the definition of territorial spaces and their components to be
especially protected. Part of these responsibilities were regulated
through Law 13123/2015 and Decree 8772/2016, which pertain
to access to genetic heritage, protection, and access to the tradi-
tional knowledge associated with biodiversity, and benefit sharing
for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. These two
regulations require the completion of legal procedures by research-
ers, which will be further detailed. These responsibilities of the
public authority also resulted in Law 9985/2000, which estab-
lished the National System of Conservation Units (or Sistema
Nacional de Unidades de Conservação, SNUC).
The establishment of the SNUC defined criteria and standards
for the creation, implementation, and management of protected
areas, or conservation units, also including areas for sustainable use.
Among the issues addressed by this law, the scientific community is
encouraged to articulate the value of the knowledge of traditional
people in the development of research on the biodiversity of pro-
tected areas and on sustainable use. Scientific research within pro-
tected areas depends on prior approval and is subject to the
supervision of the institution responsible for its administration. At
the federal level, the Normative Instruction of the Chico Mendes
Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) number
03/2014 established and regulated the Biodiversity Authorization
and Information System (SISBIO). Through SISBIO, researchers
must request the ICMBio authorizations and licenses for scientific
or didactic activities that involve the use of biodiversity or access to
federal protected areas.
Another important advance of the Federal Constitution of
1988 was the inclusion of articles focused on indigenous rights.
Articles 231 and 232, together, are important tools that recognize
and protect the cultural rights and knowledge of the indigenous
peoples of Brazil. These articles assure the recognition of the cul-
tural and linguistic practices of indigenous peoples; the recognition
and legitimacy of the multicultural presence of indigenous peoples
in Brazil; the protection and rights to land, water, and natural
234 Sofia Zank et al.

resources; and the legitimization of indigenous peoples as indepen-

dent organizations, being able to act in defense of their own rights
and interests.
In Brazil, we consider indigenous people as those of Amerin-
dian origin (or descendants of pre-Columbian inhabitants). In
Brazil, the public agency responsible for research permission with
indigenous people is called the National Indian Foundation
(FUNAI). FUNAI was created in 1967 during the period of the
military dictatorship of Brazil (1964–1985). This initial period of
operation of FUNAI was marked by two situations; on the one
hand, strategies were created to attract indigenous people to areas
of interest, such as defense battalions, and, on the other hand, they
were removed from other strategic areas (e.g., less freedom in self-
management of their lands) [12, 13]. This situation was achieved
because of a monopoly on tutelary relationships, in which activities
such as access to education and health were centralized in FUNAI.
This situation left indigenous people with little or no freedom of
action, becoming extremely dependent on FUNAI for any type of
action. Structurally, FUNAI was divided (and still continues today)
into three spatial levels: national, regional, and local. From the
1970s and 1980s, social and indigenous movements began to
emerge more strongly in Brazil and in the world. These movements
fostered the emergence of institutions and legislation in favor of
indigenous communities, which influenced some changes in
FUNAI [13, 14]. FUNAI, as of Presidential Decree No. 7056,
underwent a major administrative restructuring in 2009. From
this moment, qualified technicians began to develop activities and
plans, with the participation and performance of indigenous peo-
ple. However, the great challenge of FUNAI today is, with little
recourse and lack of professionals, to be able to deal with a great
diversity of indigenous people with diverse demands.
Additionally, the National Policy for the Sustainable Develop-
ment of Traditional Peoples and Communities (PNDSPCT), estab-
lished by Decree 6040/2007, formally recognized the traditional
Brazilian communities and extended to these people the rights that
were previously reserved to indigenous and quilombolas, according
to the Federal Constitution of 1988. The IPLC are defined in this
decree as follows:
Culturally differentiated groups recognized as such, having their own forms of
social organization, which occupy and use territories and natural resources as a
condition for their cultural, social, religious, ancestral and economic reproduc-
tion, using knowledge, innovations and practices generated and transmitted by

IPLC include quilombolas, gypsies, people from the African

matrix, artisanal fishers, rubber tappers, coco-de-babassu harvest-
ers, grassland communities, faxinalenses, riverine people, caiçaras,
sertanejos, azoreans, and pantaneiros, among others (see also
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 235

Decree 8750/2016, which establishes the National Council of

Traditional Peoples and Communities). PNDSPCT aims to recog-
nize, strengthen, and guarantee the territorial, social, environmen-
tal, economic, and cultural rights of IPLC, with respect and
appreciation for their identity, their forms of organization, and
their institutions. Among these rights are those related to the
recognition and protection of traditional knowledge, practices,
and uses, which are the focus of ethnobiological and ethnoecolo-
gical research.

1.2.1 Law 13123 and Law 13123 and Decree 8772 (which have been in force since 2015
Decree 8772 and 2016, respectively) set the current legal mark related to CBD,
determining the access to genetic heritage, providing protection
and access to the traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity,
and establishing benefit sharing for conservation and sustainable
use of biodiversity [15, 16]. Brazil ratified the CBD in 1994, which
became a law, but it did not become operative without regulation.
The first regulation to operationalize it was Provisional Mea-
sure (PM) 2186–16, approved in 2001. This PM created the
Genetic Heritage Management Council (Conselho de Gestão do
Patrimônio Genético, CGEN) and determined that access to and
remittance of genetic heritage and access to associated traditional
knowledge in the country depended on the authorization of this
council. This PM was controversial [11] and criticized due to its
excessive bureaucracy [17]; however, over time, the resolutions and
deliberations of the CGEN created conditions for the system to
function in a slightly more agile way, aiming to adapt the regula-
tions to the reality of scientific research and technological develop-
ment [18]. The PM had been in force for almost 15 years when it
was replaced by the Law of Biodiversity. This law has brought both
advances and setbacks in relation to the rights of IPLC and tradi-
tional farmers.
According to the Law 13123, in relation to scientific research,
the access to genetic heritage or associated traditional knowledge,
carried out solely for this purpose, does not require prior authori-
zation. However, researchers need to electronically register in the
National Genetic Heritage and Associated Traditional Knowledge
Management System (Sistema Nacional de Gestão do Patrimônio
Genético e do Conhecimento Tradicional Associado, SisGen),
which has been in operation since 2017. The law deals with the
traditional knowledge associated with the genetic heritage of indig-
enous peoples, traditional communities, and traditional farmers,
with the adaptation of the term IPLC used in the CBD to maintain
consistency with other Brazilian regulations. It is worth to high-
light that the segments affected by the law criticized these denomi-
nations, since they recognize themselves as indigenous peoples,
traditional peoples and communities, and family farmers. Since
the approval of the Law 13123, registration or authorization for
236 Sofia Zank et al.

access to traditional knowledge, even that obtained from secondary

sources (e.g., fairs, publications, inventories, films, scientific arti-
cles, registers, and other forms of systematization and registration
of this knowledge), has been required. In addition, the research
that does not access the traditional knowledge, but access the
genetic heritage, or “information of genetic origin of plant species,
animal, microbial species or otherwise, including substances
derived from the metabolism of these living beings,” also needs to
be registered on SisGen.
The law divides the traditional knowledge associated with
genetic heritage into two categories: (1) identifiable origin and
(2) non-identifiable origin. With identifiable origin, it is possible
to identify at least one person or community that holds it.
Non-identifiable origin is when it is not possible to define a people
or community that holds such knowledge. According to Decree
8772, “Any indigenous people, traditional community or tradi-
tional farmer who creates, develops, holds or retains certain asso-
ciated traditional knowledge is considered to be an identifiable
source of that knowledge.” This concept corroborates the consen-
sus among IPLC about the fact that all traditional knowledge is of
“identifiable origin” [19] (Box 1).

Box 1 What Is the Consequence of Considering Knowledge

as Being of Non-identifiable Origin?:
According to Law 13123, for this type of knowledge, prior
informed consent is not mandatory. In other words, a company
or researcher can access it without prior informed consent. In
addition, the sharing of benefits arising from access to this type of
knowledge would be destined to the National Fund for Benefit
In what other cases is there exemption from prior consent?
This occurs in cases that access the genetic heritage of tradi-
tional local or Creole variety or locally adapted breed or Creole
for agricultural activities.
...but the absence of prior consent of the IPLC or traditional
farmer who creates, develops, holds or preserves variety or race is
considered a violation of human rights!

One of the innovations of the law was the creation of the

National Benefit Sharing Fund (Fundo Nacional de Repartição de
Benefı́cios, FNRB), which aims to value genetic heritage and asso-
ciated traditional knowledge and promote its use in a sustainable
way. However, one of the controversial points of benefit sharing is
the existence of several exemptions that have led to distortions of
the foundations of the CBD and in the international legal frame-
work. According to the Law 13123, benefit sharing only occurs
when there is economic exploitation of a finished product or
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 237

reproductive material arising from accessing genetic heritage or

associated traditional knowledge. The law exempts the manufac-
turers of intermediary products, micro enterprises, small busi-
nesses, and individual micro entrepreneurs from sharing benefits.
The law seeks to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples,
traditional communities, and traditional farmers to (1) have recog-
nized their contribution to the development and conservation of
genetic heritage, in any form of publication, use, exploitation, and
dissemination; (2) have indicated the origin of access to associated
traditional knowledge in all publications, uses, holdings, and dis-
closures; receive benefits for the economic exploitation by third
parties, directly or indirectly, of associated traditional knowledge;
(3) participate in the decision-making process on issues related to
access to traditional associated knowledge and benefit sharing
resulting from such access; (4) freely use or sell products that
contain genetic heritage or associated traditional knowledge;
(5) conserve, manage, store, produce, exchange, develop, or
improve reproductive material that contains genetic heritage or
associated traditional knowledge.

2 Ethical and Legal Procedures in Ethnobiological Research

2.1 Ethical Prior to concerns about legal procedures, it is essential that

Procedures researchers be enlightened and oriented about ethical procedures
in ethnobiological research. We use here as a reference the ISE code
of ethics, developed over more than a decade and the product of a
series of consensus-based discussion forums involving ISE mem-
bers [2]. We chose this document due to its historical importance,
but we emphasize the convergences with the Code of Ethics of the
SOLAE and the Tkarihwaié:ri Code of Ethics Conduct.
An important value here is the concept of mindfulness, calling
our obligation to be “fully aware of one’s knowing and unknowing,
doing and undoing, action and inaction” [2] (see also translations
in several languages, including Brazilian Portuguese). The 17 prin-
ciples, aligned with the compliance with national and international
legislation and customary practices (Box 2), describe the conduct of
research or the organization of collections, publications, databases,
and audio or video recordings, among other research products and
related activities. Despite a well-marked political direction, we
know that the absorption of such principles by ethnobiological
researchers is still timid.
238 Sofia Zank et al.

Box 2 Principles for the Ethnobiological Research with

Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Societies, and Local
Communities (IPLC) (Adapted from ISE [2]):

1. Principle of prior rights and responsibilities

IPLC have prior proprietary rights over interests in and
cultural responsibilities for all air, land, and waterways and
the natural resources within them that these peoples have
traditionally inhabited or used, together with all knowl-
edge, intellectual property, and traditional resource rights
associated with such resources and their use.
2. Principle of self-determination
IPLC have a right to self-determination (or local determi-
nation for traditional and local communities), and
researchers and associated organizations will acknowledge
and respect such rights in their dealings with these peoples
and their communities.
3. Principle of inalienability
The rights of IPLC are inalienable in relation to their
traditional territories and the natural resources within
them and their associated traditional knowledge. These
rights are collective by nature but can include individual
rights; and the nature, scope, and alienability of their
respective resource rights regimes must be determined
by themselves.
4. Principle of traditional guardianship
Humanity has a holistic interconnectedness with the eco-
systems of our Sacred Earth and the obligation and
responsibility of IPLC to preserve and maintain their
role as traditional guardians of these ecosystems through
the maintenance of their cultures, identities, languages,
mythologies, spiritual beliefs, and customary laws and
5. Principle of active participation
It is crucial that IPLC actively participate in all phases of
research and related activities from inception to comple-
tion, as well as in the application of research results. Active
participation includes collaboration on research design to
address local needs and priorities and the prior review of
results before publication or dissemination.
6. Principle of full disclosure
IPLC are entitled to be fully informed about the nature,
scope, and ultimate purpose of the proposed research
(including objective, methodology, data collection, and

Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 239

Box 2 (continued)
the dissemination and application of results). This infor-
mation is to be given in forms that are understood and
useful at a local level, considering cultural preferences and
modes of transmission of these peoples and communities.
7. Principle of educated prior informed consent
Educated prior informed consent is mandatory before any
research is undertaken at individual and collective levels,
as determined by community governance structures.
Prior informed consent is an ongoing process that is
based on a relationship and maintained throughout all
phases of research. IPLC have a right to say no.
8. Principle of confidentiality
IPLC, at their sole discretion, have the right to exclude
from publication and/or to have kept confidential any
information concerning their culture, identity, language,
traditions, mythologies, spiritual beliefs, or genomics.
9. Principle of respect
This principle recognizes the necessity for researchers to
respect the integrity, morality, and spirituality of the cul-
ture, traditions, and relationships of IPLC with their
10. Principle of active protection
Researchers must take active measures to protect and
enhance the relationships of IPLC with their environment
and thereby promote the maintenance of cultural and
biological diversity.
11. Principle of precaution
Proactive and anticipatory actions are needed to identify
and to prevent biological or cultural harms resulting from
research activities or outcomes, including a responsibility
to avoid imposing external or foreign conceptions and
12. Principle of reciprocity, mutual benefit, and equitable sharing
IPLC are entitled to share in and benefit from tangible
and intangible processes, results, and outcomes, direct or
indirect, and over the shorter and longer term, from
ethnobiological research and related activities that involve
their knowledge and resources.
13. Principle of supporting indigenous research
This principle recognizes and supports the efforts of
IPLC in undertaking their own research based on their

240 Sofia Zank et al.

Box 2 (continued)
own epistemologies and methodologies. For that, capac-
ity building, training exchanges, and technology transfer
for IPLC should be included in research whenever
14. Principle of the dynamic interactive cycle
Research and related activities should not be initiated
unless all stages can be completed: (a) preparation and
evaluation; (b) full implementation; (c) evaluation, dis-
semination, and return of results; and (d) training and
education as an integral part of the project. All projects
must be seen as cycles of continuous and ongoing com-
munication and interaction.
15. Principle of remedial action
Every effort will be made to avoid any adverse conse-
quences to IPLC from research and related activities and
outcomes. Any such remedial action may include restitu-
tion, when agreed to and appropriate.
16. Principle of acknowledgement and due credit
IPLC must be acknowledged in accordance with their
preference and given due credit in all agreed-upon pub-
lications and other forms of dissemination for their tangi-
ble and intangible contributions to research activities.
Coauthorship should be considered when appropriate.
This extends to secondary or downstream uses and
17. Principle of diligence
Researchers are expected to have a working understand-
ing of the local context prior to entering into research
relationships with a community and to conduct research
in the local language to the degree possible.

2.2 Legal Procedures Currently, international organizations and research funding agen-
cies around the world have developed their own project submission
2.2.1 National System of
protocols [20]. We recommend studying the current legislation
Research Ethics Involving
and protocols specific to the country in which data collection will
Human Subjects
take place. We recall that protocols may change, but prior informa-
tion and consent for research participation remain as a solid
In Brazil, according to the legal frameworks of the health area
for research with human beings, which also apply to research even
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 241

outside the health area, research projects must be previously

approved by a research ethics committee of a university or research
institution (Comitê de Ética em Pesquisa, CEP, or Comitê de Ética
em Pesquisa com Seres Humanos, CEPSH) and be consented to by
the research collaborators. A CEP is an institutional body that has
the role of reviewing scientific research projects, besides the assign-
ment of an advisory and educational role [21, 22].
A crucial point in this approval by a CEP is the preparation of a
document of free informed consent (Termo de Consentimento
Livre e Esclarecido, TCLE). The TCLE, also known as prior con-
sent, has the role of clarifying and protecting the research collabo-
rator, as well as the researcher [23]. These procedures converge
with some of the requirements of the Law 13123, which are dealt
with in the following item of this text. Then, in Box 3, we summa-
rize a checklist with guidelines for the steps prior to conducting the
research and for the elaboration of a TCLE so that it ensures the
ethical precepts that guide the studies with human beings. In the
case of access to knowledge of IPCL and traditional farmers, which
should follow the Law 13123, it is required to include the impacts
resulting from the execution of the research, the rights and respon-
sibilities of each party, the right to deny access, and in the case of
research with an economic bias, information on the distribution of
benefits (Articles 16 of Decree 8772/2016).

Box 3 Guidelines and Checklist of the Mandatory Steps in

the Preparation of a Prior Informed Consent Term (Termo
de Consentimento Livre e Esclarecido, TCLE) in Brazil:

1. Invitation to participate in the research

Participation in a research project is not mandatory. In
this moment, the researcher should try to establish a
relationship of trust between the researcher and the
research collaborator. Thus, the invitation to participate
is essential.
2. Identification of the research
Research title, objectives, justification, and procedures
should be identified, always written clearly and
3. Research methods
How will the data be collected? Who will do interviews?
What will be included in the interview? How will this data
be recorded or registered?

242 Sofia Zank et al.

Box 3 (continued)
4. Right to not participate
The document should statemake clearly the right of
refusal of the research participation at any time or stage
of the research.
5. Research follow-up
Besides the researcher, who else will be doing the
research? The researcher must provide the name of your
supervisor and of the people who will help with data
collection and their respective links to their institutions.
6. Secrecy
The researcher needs to explain how the data will be
stored and assure the interviewee’s anonymity.
7. Publications and use of information
Provide a brief explanation of how the data will be used
(publications of articles, development of drugs, cos-
metics, etc.). We encourage a mention about benefit shar-
ing and returning the data to the research collaborators
and how it is intended to happen.
8. Risks and benefits
Risks of the research are commonly overlooked in the
formulation of the TCLE. Even if your data collection
involves an interview, you need to consider tiredness and
boredom during participation in the survey, as well as
embarrassment, discomfort, and even breach of confi-
dentiality. The latter, even if involuntary, should be
included in the TCLE. Reimbursement and indemnifica-
tion must also be guaranteed in the case of any damage
resulting from the research. Regarding the benefits, all
scientific research is expected to bring some benefit to
society. We can then explain what we expect to achieve
from tangible and intangible benefits in the short and
long term. In addition, depending on the type of benefit,
such as those resulting in monetary outcomes of the
research, you will need to describe in detail how it will
be assured to the collaborator.
9. Consent/agreement
The TCLE must contain a field for registration of the
acceptance to collaborate with the research. When the
subject is underage, illiterate, or has some intellectual
disability, the document then should request the consent
of the parents or legal guardian.
The TCLE does not necessarily have to be obtained in
writing: other media are allowed (see CNS 510/16).

Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 243

Box 3 (continued)
10. Researcher’s signature
The researcher’s signature as the researcher is a way of
legally showing the commitment to comply with the
terms of the ethnobiological code of ethics and the cur-
rent resolution related to research with human beings
used in the country (e.g., CNS 466/12 in Brazil; always
remember to cite these documents).
11. How to contact the researcher or the ethics committee
Include information about how to contact the researcher,
research group or laboratory, and the ethics committee
that approved the project (address, telephone of the
researcher and supervisor, and email addresses).

In Brazil, the submission of a research project is done through

an online portal called Plataforma Brasil (http://plataformabrasil. Through this portal, all documents related to
research should be sent, and the evaluations can then be monitored
(Box 4). When the project is approved, annual or final reports
(depending on the duration of the project) should be sent to the
platform as a form of follow-up of the research. In the case of
non-approval of the project by the indication of pending issues, it
is necessary to carefully read the evaluation to make a new submis-
sion. The project must be approved before data collection starts.

Box 4 Checklist for Insertion of Documents in the

Plataforma Brazil:
1. Research project.
2. Model of the prior informed consent term (TCLE); see
guidelines in Box 3.
3. Authorizations of competent bodies in the case of floristic and
faunistic collections.
4. Authorization of community leaders (if applicable).
5. Authorization statement of the participating institution(s):
statement of the institution(s) involved authorizing the
research signed by the person in charge of the institution(s).
6. Filling in the form with details of the research in Plataforma
7. Cover sheet generated within Plataforma Brasil: at the end of
the completion of the form, a cover page will be made avail-
able, which must be signed by the coordinator of the research
and the person responsible for the proposing institution.
244 Sofia Zank et al.

2.2.2 Access to To comply with the Law 13123 and Decree 8772, we present the
Traditional Associated steps for the development of a research study that does not aim at
Knowledge and Genetic the economic exploitation of a product by the user (researcher,
Resources and Equitable company, government, etc.), which is the reality of most ethnobio-
Sharing of Benefits logical research. However, in the case of research with economic
exploitation, it is necessary for the reader to seek detailed informa-
tion on the process of authorization of the research and on equita-
ble benefit sharing [15, 16].
The first step in the development of the research is to obtain
prior and informed consent by the community to be investigated,
which as mentioned before, is convergent with the objectives of
obtaining the free informed consent or TCLE (Box 3). According
to the law, prior informed consent may occur by signing a prior
consent term, obtaining an audiovisual record of consent, ascer-
taining an opinion of the competent official body, or being recog-
nized by the community protocol. Community protocols are
internal rules created by the communities themselves that say how
the government, companies, researchers, and others interested in
accessing their associated traditional knowledge should proceed in
a way that respects customs, uses, and traditions. The evidence of
consent instrument must be prepared in an accessible language,
containing the description of the consent process, the organization
and representation of the community studied, and information
about the research (objective, duration, budget, financing, etc.),
uses that are intended to provide the knowledge, the area of cover-
age of the project and the communities studied, and whether the
community received technical and legal advice in the process (Arti-
cles 17 of Decree 8772/2016). Although it is possible in Brazilian
legislation to prove prior and informed consent through the opin-
ion of a competent official body, it is imperative that prior and
informed consultation with the people or community to be studied
occurs, not violating ethical precepts and internationally recog-
nized human rights [2, 24].
We believe that all ethnobiological and ethnoecological
research should follow the ethical precepts of the ISE Code of
Ethics (see Sect. 2.1) and the legal instruments internationally
recognized about the rights of IPLC (see Sect. 1.1), even in the
cases in which the Law 13123 suggests that access to knowledge of
unidentified origin does not require prior informed consent. In
other words, all research must request prior and informed consent
of the community and respect the collective organization (e.g.,
even if the research works with local experts, it is important to
attain a collective authorization for the research through its
community-based organization). It is also important that the com-
munity should agree with the deadline for the registration of Sis-
Gen during the consent. The researcher must be aware that the
community has the right to deny access to their associated tradi-
tional knowledge, and this decision must be respected.
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 245

After obtaining the prior informed consent of the community

to be studied, the researcher can register on SisGen (see checklist in
Box 5). It should be noted that research on secondary data must
also be registered on SisGen. Although the Brazilian legislation
only requires the register of research with indigenous peoples,
traditional peoples and communities, and traditional farmers, we
suggest that research with local communities be also registered as a
way of safeguarding the knowledge of these groups that in the
future may have economic exploitation. According to the law, the
registration must be made before the following: the dissemination
of results (final or partial) in scientific circles; the shipment of
samples to third parties; the application for an intellectual property
right on a process, product, or cultivar developed from access; the
notification to CGEN of the finished product or reproductive
material developed as a result of access; and the commercialization
of the intermediate product.
Any research that does not access the traditional knowledge of
thepeoples and communities mentioned in the law, but access
genetic heritage also need to be registered on SisGen.

Box 5 Checklist for Registration in the National Genetic

Heritage and Associated Traditional Knowledge
Management System (Sistema Nacional de Gestão do
Patrimônio Genético e do Conhecimento Tradicional
Associado, SisGen):

1. Basic information about the research or technological devel-

opment activity, including:
– Summary of the activity and its objectives.
– Application sector, in the case of technological
– Expected or obtained results, depending on the time of
– Research staff, including information on students or
– Other national institutions participating in the execution
of the activity, when applicable, including international
– When the activity happened or will happen?
– What was the genetic heritage accessed (identification at
the strictest possible taxonomic level)?

246 Sofia Zank et al.

Box 5 (continued)
– Declaration whether the genetic heritage is a traditional
local or Creole variety or locally adapted or Creole breed,
or if the species is on the official list of species threatened
with extinction.
– Who provided the traditional knowledge associated and a
description of the sources of this knowledge (including
secondary sources)?
– Where the study was done (geo-referenced coordinates),
except for knowledge of non-identifiable origin?
– Previous registration or authorization number in the case
of research or technological development carried out after
June 30, 2000.
2. Testimony for obtaining prior informed consent of the pro-
vider of associated traditional knowledge of identifiable
3. If needed, request the confidentiality of information by pre-
senting the relevant legal foundation and a non-confidential
4. When it applies, declare if it is a case of legal exemption or
non-allocation of benefit sharing.

If information provided on SisGen changes, the researcher

must update the relevant data at least once a year. Researchers
should indicate the source of the associated traditional knowledge
in disclosures and publications. This is a way to recognize the
traditional knowledge and, most importantly, is an IPLC right
that should be respected.
The system still needs to be much improved, since some
points currently make it difficult for researchers to legalize
their research, such as entering the CPF or CNPJ of research
informants conducted since 2000 or the need to manually enter
the traditional knowledge information for each accessed genetic
resource. Thus, the researcher must be aware that many adjust-
ments in the system are still expected, but they depend on the
managers of the SisGen.
The legislation determines fines for infractions, such as
(a) accessing traditional knowledge of identifiable origin without
obtaining prior informed consent, or in disagreement with it;
(b) disclosing results, final or partial, in scientific or communication
media without previous registration; (c) failing to indicate the
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 247

origin of associated traditional knowledge of identifiable origin in

publications, uses, holdings, and disclosures resulting from the
access; and (d) presenting totally or partially false or misleading
information, whether in the official systems or in any other admin-
istrative procedure related to the genetic heritage or associated
traditional knowledge.

2.2.3 Research with In Brazil the institutions responsible for authorizing research with
Indigenous Peoples indigenous peoples were those already mentioned in this text (CEP,
CGEN, SisGen, SISBIO, and FUNAI). To obtain authorization,
the researcher may start the procedures with a CEP and FUNAI, at
the same time. The projects with indigenous people submitted to
local ethics committees (CEP) through Plataforma Brasil will be
directed to the National Ethics Committee (Comissão Nacional de
Ética em Pesquisa, CONEP).
To begin the authorization process by FUNAI, the researcher
must submit a series of documents by conventional mail, and
the checklist of the documents to be forwarded is provided in
Box 6 [25]. After the processing of the project in the Plataforma
Brasil and the acceptance of the documents provided, the
researcher may send the technical advice from CONEP to
FUNAI. Then, FUNAI is responsible for collecting the signatures
of the indigenous community and presenting them the project.
However, it is important to note that this structure of acquisition
of authorizations to work with indigenous peoples often becomes
impractical within the reality of the researcher, who has limited
time to conduct his research. However, FUNAI is divided structur-
ally at national, regional, and local levels, and due to the large
number of villages in Brazil, the practice of collecting signatures
involves a lot of complexity and makes the formal authorization
difficult. For this reason, the collection of permits is often carried
out by the researcher herself/himself, even if in theory, it is not
allowed to enter the village until the authorization is obtained.
Moreover, the lack of communication between institutions such
as FUNAI and the local ethics committees makes the process even
slower and more difficult.
In addition to these authorizations, in the case of collection of
botanical, animal, microbiological, or fungal material, as well as
when the village is located within a protected area, the researcher
must register on SISBIO, and in the case of seeking access to
associated traditional knowledge or genetic resources, the
researcher must also register the research on SisGen (see Sect.
248 Sofia Zank et al.

Box 6 Checklist of the Documents Needed to Be Sent to

1. Letter from the researcher requesting permission to enter any
indigenous territory, addressed to the FUNAI Presidency,
specifying the indigenous land and village, indigenous people,
entry period, contact information of the researcher, and a list
of team members, if any.
2. Letter of the research advisor, presenting the researcher.
3. Statement of formal link with the research institution.
4. Research project.
5. Researcher’s curriculum.
6. Copy of the personal identification documents of the researcher
and the team. In the case of a foreign researcher, a copy of the
passport with identification and entry visas in the country.
7. Authorization published by the Ministry of Science, Technol-
ogy, and Innovation (MCTI) when it is a foreign researcher.

2.2.4 Collection of Many ethnobiological researchers must also comply with regula-
Biological Material and tions related to the collection of biological material (animals or
Research in Protected plants) in areas that are protected as conservation units. Authoriza-
Areas tion for the collection of biological material and research in federal
protected areas and caves is carried out through SISBIO (http://
Researchers must register and continually update their personal
data, the identification of the relevant scientific institution, and
their curriculum in the Lattes Platform of the National Council of
Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho Nacional de
Desenvolvimento Cientı́fico e Tecnológico, CNPq). For registra-
tion in SISBIO, besides the project, the researcher must provide
other details, such as the taxa that will be collected, captured,
marked or transported; the intended destination for the collected
material; when the collection will happen; and whether there will be
access to the genetic heritage or associated traditional knowledge.
In the case of the collection of botanical, fungic, or microbio-
logical materials that are not in protected areas (conservation units)
and species that are not threatened with extinction, it is not neces-
sary to request authorization via SISBIO.

3 Conclusion: Step-by-Step Protocol to the Ethnobiological Research Complying

with Ethical and Legal Issues

To help the reader with the understanding of the complexity of

legal issues, we present a summary of the steps that researchers in
Protocols and Ethical Considerations in Ethnobiological Research 249

Fig. 2 Summary of steps to comply with legal procedures in ethnobiological research

the field of ethnobiology and ethnoecology must carry out to

conduct their research in accordance with Brazilian legislation
(Fig. 2). Prior to using this flowchart, we assume that the research
does access knowledge. We also assume that all institutions and
systems implicated are fully operational.
250 Sofia Zank et al.

3.1 Understanding Before beginning any research activity, there should be a good
the Local Reality understanding of the local context, the representative institutions
of the community, and their interest in the research, as well as
knowledge of community cultural protocols.

3.2 Prior Informed Prior informed consent must be established before conducting any
Consent research activity. This consent needs to be developed with the
persons or deliberative bodies iden