Economic Botany

, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 160–175 | Cite as

Amerindian and Afro-American Perceptions of Their Traditional Knowledge in the Chocó Biodiversity Hotspot

  • Rodrigo Cámara-Leret
  • Juan C. Copete
  • Henrik Balslev
  • Marybel Soto Gomez
  • Manuel J. MacíaEmail author

Amerindian and Afro-American Perceptions of Their Traditional Knowledge in the Chocó Biodiversity Hotspot

The Chocó biodiversity hotspot is one of the most biodiverse and threatened regions on earth, yet the traditional knowledge (TK) of its inhabitants about biodiversity remains little studied. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) aims to integrate different knowledge systems, including scientific and TK, to assess the state of the planet’s biodiversity. We documented the TK of three ethnic groups: Afro-Colombians (n = 86 participants), Amerindian Emberá (n = 88), and Tsa’chila (n = 52), focusing on their perceptions about (i) the most important palms, (ii) current vs. past uses, (iii) and TK transmission. We found 46 useful palm species and 520 different uses of palms. The species that were most important in local people’s views also had high use value, based on a commonly used quantitative index in ethnobotany. Although construction was the most commonly mentioned use category, palm materials were absent in Afro-Colombian and Tsa’chila homes, and were being increasingly replaced in Emberá homes. In all three cultures, it was generally believed that TK was not being transmitted to the younger generations. In aggregate, the current perceptions of decreasing transmission of TK, decreasing use of forests, and intergenerational differences in perceptions in the Chocó could accelerate the erosion of TK. Therefore, this could ultimately limit the contribution of Amerindian and Afro-Colombian TK to IPBES’s goals of assessing on-the-ground changes in biodiversity.

Key Words

Cultural change ecosystem services indigenous peoples palms local knowledge plant valuation quantitative ethnobotany local perceptions 

Percepciones Amerindias y Afro-Americanas de su conocimiento tradicional en el punto caliente de biodiversidad del Chocó

El punto caliente de biodiversidad del Chocó es una de las regiones más biodiversas y amenazadas de la Tierra, sin embargo el conocimiento tradicional (CT) de sus habitantes sobre la biodiversidad está poco estudiado. La Plataforma Intergubernamental sobre Biodiversidad y Servicios de los Ecosistemas (IPBES ) tiene como objetivo integrar los diferentes sistemas de conocimiento, incluidos los conocimientos científicos y tradicionales, para evaluar el estado de la biodiversidad del planeta. Documentamos el CT de tres grupos étnicos: los Afro-Colombianos (n = 86 participantes), Amerindios Emberá (n = 88), y Tsa'chila (n = 52), enfocándonos en sus percepciones sobre (i) las palmeras más importantes, (ii) los usos actuales vs. pasados, (iii) y la transmisión del CT. Encontramos 46 especies de palmeras útiles y 520 usos diferentes. Las especies que fueron más importantes según las poblaciones locales también tuvieron un valor de uso alto, en base a un índice cuantitativo de uso común en etnobotánica. Aunque construcción fue la categoría de uso más comúnmente mencionada, no se encontraron materiales de palmeras en los hogares Afro-Colombianos y Tsa'chila, y en los hogares Emberá se estaban remplazando cada vez más. En las tres culturas se tuvo la percepción general de que el CT no se está transmitiendo a las generaciones más jóvenes. Además, la percepción actual de disminución en la transmisión del CT, el menor uso de los bosques y las diferencias en las percepciones intergeneracionales en el Chocó podrían acelerar la erosión del CT. Por lo tanto, todo ello podría limitar la contribución del CT de los Amerindios y Afro-Colombianos a los objetivos de IPBES para evaluar los cambios locales en la biodiversidad.



We thank all study participants and the herbarium staff from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá, the Universidad Tecnológica del Chocó, and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. We thank Anders Barfod, Rodrigo Bernal, Roberto Carrillo, Lucía de la Torre, Gloria Galeano, Eva Ledezma, Alicia Mena, Hugo Navarrete, Narel Paniagua, and Renato Valencia for their support and valuable discussions. This study is part of the PALMS project funded by European Union, 7th Framework Programme (contract no. 212631), and also supported by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid travel grants program and a GSST fellowship of Aarhus University (to RCL). The authors declare that they have no competing interests. RCL and MJM designed the study. RCL, JCC, and MSG performed the field survey. RCL and MJM analyzed the data. RCL, MJM, and HB wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rodrigo Cámara-Leret
    • 1
    • 2
  • Juan C. Copete
    • 3
  • Henrik Balslev
    • 2
  • Marybel Soto Gomez
    • 4
  • Manuel J. Macía
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología, Área de BotánicaUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity Group, Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  3. 3.Departamento de BiologíaUniversidad Tecnológica del ChocóQuibdóColombia
  4. 4.Department of BotanyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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