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A Rapid Sustainability Assessment of Wild Plant Extraction on the Dutch Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius


The Caribbean islands are considered a biodiversity hotspot, with high levels of endemism but also extreme levels of habitat loss. One factor causing local extinction or species scarcity is plant extraction by humans. Very few recent ethnobotanical studies exist for the Dutch Caribbean. We aimed to make a rapid sustainability assessment of wild plant harvesting on the island of St. Eustatius. A quantitative inventory of 11 plots (25 × 25 m) was carried out to obtain abundance data on wild plants, and 31 interviews were conducted to collect information on wild plant uses, extraction methods, and harvesting locations. In total, our respondents mentioned 181 useful plant species of which 66 were harvested exclusively from the wild. Four of these (Melocactus intortus (Mill.) Urb., Nectandra coriacea (Sw.) Griseb., Pilosocereus royenii (L.) Byles & G. D. Rowley, and Chiococca alba (L.) Hitchc.) may encounter sustainability problems in the future or might suffer from overharvesting already, as they do not survive harvesting and occur in low numbers in protected areas only. For the majority of wild species on St. Eustatius, plant extraction does not form an immediate threat to their survival. Several wild species are cultivated in gardens. Further population studies on the four shortlisted species are needed to calculate sustainable harvest levels and design adequate management plans for their survival in the future.

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This study was funded by Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Alberta Mennega Stichting, and the Van Eeden fonds. Fieldwork was facilitated by the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) and Hannah Madden (STENAPA). We would like to thank our informants and field assistants Ambrosius van Zanten and Celford Gibbs for their time and sharing their knowledge. Franklin Axelrod of the Puerto Rico herbarium (UPR) assisted us with plant identification. Students and staff of the course Tropical Biodiversity and Field Methods contributed in collecting and identifying specimens during the plot inventory.

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Correspondence to Chantal Posthouwer.

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Posthouwer, C., Verheijden, T.M.S. & van Andel, T.R. A Rapid Sustainability Assessment of Wild Plant Extraction on the Dutch Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius. Econ Bot 70, 320–331 (2016).

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Key Words

  • Wild plant harvesting
  • Caribbean
  • Sustainability
  • Nature conservation
  • Ethnobotany