Economic Botany

, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 251–261 | Cite as

Assessing Variation and Diversity of Ethnomedical Knowledge: A Case Study from Malekula Island, Vanuatu


Assessing Variation and Diversity of Ethnomedical Knowledge: A Case Study from Malekula Island, Vanuatu

Ethnomedical knowledge is important for health and wellbeing in many rural communities. Bodies of ethnomedical knowledge vary within and between communities, and may be at risk of erosion. However, little work has analyzed knowledge variation in Melanesia. In this study we use structured interview data from 177 participants to analyze richness and diversity of ethnomedical knowledge on Malekula Island in the Republic of Vanuatu. We use an information theoretic approach, a methodology that enables selection between competing hypotheses, and find that ethnomedical knowledge richness is patterned by gender, linguistic preference, and market visitation. We also note that the diversity of ethnomedical knowledge is highest in the oldest, less formally educated participants. These findings may indicate that social and environmental change has impacted the shape and form of ethnomedical knowledge in these communities. In response, we note the importance of vernacular language acquisition for maintenance of ethnomedical knowledge on Malekula. Our approach demonstrates the power of ecological methods, including diversity indices and model selection, for the analysis of ethnobiological data.

Key Words

Ethnomedicine ethnobotany traditional ecological knowledge Akaike Information Criterion diversity indices Malekula Vanuatu 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance of collaborators in Vanuatu, in particular VCC fieldworkers in the focus communities. Both authors were based at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, while this work was completed. JM was supported by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography, Environment and Earth SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Dimensions of Natural ResourcesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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