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Are Ecologically Important Tree Species the Most Useful? A Case Study from Indigenous People in the Bolivian Amazon

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Are Ecologically Important Tree Species the Most Useful? A Case Study from Indigenous People in the Bolivian Amazon. Researchers have argued that indigenous peoples prefer to use the most apparent plant species, particularly for medicinal uses. However, the association between the ecological importance of a species and its usefulness remains unclear. In this paper we quantify such association for six use categories (firewood, construction, materials, food, medicines, and other uses). We collected data on the uses of 58 tree species, as reported by 93 informants in 22 villages in the Tsimane’ territory (Bolivian Amazon). We calculated the ecological importance of the same species by deriving their importance value index (IVI) in 48 0.1-ha old-growth forest plots. Matching both data sets, we found a positive relation between the IVI of a species and its overall use value (UV) as well as with its UV for construction and materials. We found a negative relation between IVI and UV for species that were reportedly used for medicine and food uses, and no clear pattern for the other categories. We hypothesize that species used for construction or crafting purposes because of their physical properties are more easily substitutable than species used for medicinal or edible purposes because of their chemical properties.

Las especies de árboles de mayor importancia ecológica ¿son también las más útiles? Estudio de caso en un pueblo indígena de la Amazonia boliviana. Se ha argumentado que las poblaciones indígenas usan más las especies de plantas más comunes, especialmente para fines medicinales. Sin embargo, los patrones de asociación entre la importancia ecológica de una especie y su utilidad no son totalmente consistentes. En este estudio cuantificamos esta asociación para seis categorías de usos (leña, construcción, materiales, comestible, medicinal, y otros usos) en el territorio Tsimane’ (Amazonía boliviana). Recogimos datos de usos de 58 especies de árboles, reportados por 93 informantes en 22 comunidades, y combinamos estos datos con la importancia ecológica de las especies, estimada por su índice de importancia ecológica (IVI) en 48 parcelas de 0.1 ha establecidas en bosque maduro. Encontramos una relación positiva entre el IVI de las especies y su valor de uso (UV) general, además de su UV en construcción y materiales. Encontramos una relación negativa entre el IVI y el UV para las plantas medicinales y comestibles, y ningún patrón claro para las otras categorías. Nuestros datos sugieren que las especies usadas para construcción o materiales por sus propiedades físicas son más fácilmente sustituibles que las especies usadas como medicinales o comestibles por sus propiedades químicas.

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We thank the Gran Consejo Tsimane’ and the Dirección General de la Biodiversidad (Bolivia) for research permits, as well as all the Tsimane’ for their interest and cooperation in the field. We also thank P. Pache, E. Tayo, F. Sarabia, and D. Durvano for help with the interviews, M. Lero, E. Huasnay, and D. Cari for help with the inventories, T. Huanca and E. Conde for logistic support, and botanists from the LPB for help with plant identifications. M. Pardo de Santayana, R. Godoy, and TAPS researchers kindly provided comments on earlier drafts. Research was funded by a grant from the BBVA Foundation (BIOCON_06_106-07) and written under the framework of an ERC-FP7 project under grant agreement no261971 (LEK).

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Correspondence to Victoria Reyes-García.

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1Received 10 December 2012; accepted 10 December 2013.

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Guèze, M., Luz, A.C., Paneque-Gálvez, J. et al. Are Ecologically Important Tree Species the Most Useful? A Case Study from Indigenous People in the Bolivian Amazon. Econ Bot 68, 1–15 (2014).

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