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Economic Botany

, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 269–287 | Cite as

Theories and Major Hypotheses in Ethnobotany

  • Orou G. GaoueEmail author
  • Michael A. Coe
  • Matthew Bond
  • Georgia Hart
  • Barnabas C. Seyler
  • Heather McMillen
Review

Abstract

Ethnobotany has evolved from a discipline that largely documented the diversity of plant use by local people to one focused on understanding how and why people select plants for a wide range of uses. This progress has been in response to a repeated call for theory-inspired and hypothesis-driven research to improve the rigor of the discipline. Despite improvements, recent ethnobotanical research has overemphasized the use of quantitative ethnobotany indices and statistical methods borrowed from ecology, yet underemphasized the development and integration of a strong theoretical foundation. To advance the field of ethnobotany as a hypothesis-driven, theoretically inspired discipline, it is important to first synthesize the existing theoretical lines of research. We review and discuss 17 major theories and hypotheses in ethnobotany that can be used as a starting point for developing research questions that advance our understanding of people–plant interactions. For each theory or major hypothesis, we identify its primary predictions and testable hypotheses and then discuss how these predictions have been tested. Developing research to test these predictions will make significant contributions to the field of ethnobotany and create the critical mass of primary literature necessary to develop meta-analyses and to advance new theories in ethnobotany.

Key Words

Hypothesis-driven research medicinal plant selection optimal defense theory utilitarian redundancy model taboo as luxury theory in ethnobotany. 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This paper is inspired by discussion with two generations of undergraduate students in the Theory and Methods in Ethnobotany (BOT 440) course taught by the lead author at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa whose questions and insights shaped this paper. We are grateful to Bob Voeks, Ulysses Albuquerque, and Tamara Ticktin for the comments and insightful discussion on the earlier versions of this manuscript and to two anonymous reviewers for the valuable comments on the manuscript. OGG is supported by a startup grant from the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Author Contributions

OGG conceived of the idea for the paper, outlined and structured its content, drafted the introduction and discussion, and coordinated the overall process. MAC, MB, GH, and BCS drafted the sections on specific theories or major hypotheses. HM contributed primarily to the introduction and discussion with an emphasis on anthropological perspectives and contributions. All authors contributed to the final revision of the paper.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BotanyUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of AgronomyUniversity of ParakouParakouBenin
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy StudiesUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  5. 5.U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research StationNew York City Urban Field StationBaysideUSA

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