Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 1153–1173 | Cite as

Patterns of use and knowledge of wild edible plants in distinct ecological environments: a case study of a Mapuche community from northwestern Patagonia



The multiple use of distinct ecological environments in the search for wild resources has been practiced since ancestral times in aboriginal communities inhabiting northwestern Patagonia. This paper examines the actual use and knowledge of wild edible plants in a Mapuche community presently settled in one of the most arid areas of Patagonia, far from the temperate forests where their ancestors used to live. The difference between knowledge of and use of wild plants is analyzed emphasizing that these differences could contribute to the understanding of eroding processes believed to be occurring in the community. These objectives are studied quantitatively by utilizing ethnobotanical indices, partially derived from ecological theory. Our results indicate that the Paineo dwellers still utilize multiple ecological gathering environments and have thorough plant knowledge of both native and exotic species. The Andean forest, more than 50 km away from this community, is the environment from which the Paineo dwellers know the greatest total richness and the highest diversity of wild edible plants, followed by the Monte–Steppe species and lastly, those growing around their homes. The transmission of wild edible plant knowledge in the Paineo community diminishes with age, and the forest plants are the most vulnerable to loss. Our results have shown that the knowledge and consumption of wild edible plants follows a pattern according to ecological conditions of the gathering environments, as well as the cultural heritage of the Paineo people.

Edible wild plants Ethnobotany Indigenous knowledge and use Patagonia South America 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centro Regional Universitario BarilocheUniversidad Nacional del ComahueArgentina

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