, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 86–96 | Cite as

Pillar of strength: Columnar cactus as a key factor in Yoreme heritage and wildland preservation

  • Andrew J. Semotiuk
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
  • David Valenzuela Maldonado
  • Exequiel Ezcurra


The persistence of traditional cultures and modes of land use within rapidly changing, globalized societies is a central issue in understanding ecological and cultural change in the Anthropocene. Located in the heart of the Green Revolution, the Yoreme (Mayo) people of the Mayo Valley in Mexico still obtain a significant proportion of their sustenance from wild ecosystems in the midst of this intensive technological and agricultural development. They live in and around the thornscrub dominated by pitaya (Stenocereus thurberi (Engelm.) Buxb.). In this study, we hypothesize that pitaya supports Yoreme heritage and sustenance amidst anthropogenic changes to the landscape, and we asked three specific questions: What is the land-use status of the S. thurberi habitat? What are its potential uses? Does S. thurberi provide economic value? To address these questions, we conducted interviews, vegetation surveys, and land-use analysis based on geographic information systems. We found that (a) land conversion of the pitaya-rich thornscrub is occurring at a precipitous rate, (b) local producers preserve and adapt their traditions, and (c) S. thurberi supports Yoreme heritage while providing economic benefit. The resulting land-use projections along with the cultural value of pitaya products shows the importance of conserving land and promoting sustainable projects instead of clearing land for other uses. If habitat shrinking continues at the current rate, it is likely that both Yoreme livelihoods and continued cultural practices will suffer.


Ethnobotany Land-use change Pitaya Sonora, Mexico Stenocereus thurberi Yoreme 



We thank the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) for funding as a Dissertation Research Grant (DI 14-7). We express our utmost thanks to our local partners who assisted with networking and data collection, namely Simona Aldama, Panchita Espinoza, Eudelia Verdugo, Jesús Buaysegua, Tirzo Ontamucha, Benjamín Leyva, Martín Espinoza, Miguel Molina, and Ishmael Ibarra. We also thank Latif Ahmad, Lorena Villanueva-Almanza, Darrel Jenerette, and Nancy Semotiuk for revision of early versions of this article, and Jessica Semotiuk for help with illustrations.

Supplementary material

13280_2017_940_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (76 kb)
Protocol S1 (PDF 76 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Semotiuk
    • 1
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
    • 2
  • David Valenzuela Maldonado
    • 3
  • Exequiel Ezcurra
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany and Plant SciencesUniversity of California RiversideRiversideUSA
  2. 2.Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y AmbienteEl Colegio de la Frontera SurSan Cristóbal de las CasasMexico
  3. 3.Centro de Investigación Etnobotánica para el Desarrollo SostentableNavojoaMexico

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