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      Vernacular dominance in folk taxonomy: a case study of ethnospecies in medicinal plant trade in Tanzania


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          Medicinal plants are traded as products with vernacular names, but these folk taxonomies do not always correspond one-to-one with scientific plant names. These local species entities can be defined as ethnospecies and can match, under-differentiate or over-differentiate as compared to scientific species. Identification of plant species in trade is further complicated by the processed state of the product, substitution and adulteration. In countries like Tanzania, an additional dimension to mapping folk taxonomies on scientific names is added by the multitude of ethnicities and languages of the plant collectors, traders and consumers. This study aims to elucidate the relations between the most common vernacular names and the ethnicity of the individual traders among the medicinal plant markets in Dar es Salaam and Tanga regions in Tanzania, with the aim of understanding the dynamics of vernacular names in plant trade.


          A total of 90 respondents were interviewed in local markets using semi-structured interviews. The ethnicity of each respondent was recorded, as well as the language of each ethnospecies mentioned during the interviews. Voucher collections and reference literature were used to match ethnospecies across languages.


          At each market, the language of the majority of the vendors dominates the names for medicinal products. The dominant vendors often represent the major ethnic groups of that region. Independent of their ethnicity, vendors offer their products in the dominant language of the specific region without apparently leading to any confusion or species mismatching.


          Middlemen, traders and vendors adapt their folk classifications to those of the ethnic groups of the region where they conduct their trade, and to the ethnicity of their main customers. The names in the language of the traders are not forgotten, but relegated in favor of the more salient names of the dominant tribe.

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          The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1746-4269-11-10) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references49

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          Medicinal plant knowledge and its erosion among the Mien (Yao) in northern Thailand.

          We studied local knowledge and actual uses of medicinal plants among the Mien in northern Thailand, documenting traditional medical practices and its transfer between generations. With the assumption that discrepancies between knowledge and actual use represent knowledge erosion, we studied whether actual use of medicinal plants corresponded to people's knowledge of such uses. We used local knowledge from four specialist informants as the domain for semi-structured interviews with 34 randomly selected non-specialist informants. We calculated informant consensus, use value, and fidelity level for each species and use category and performed statistical analyses with Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests, Pearson correlation coefficient, Spearman's rank correlation coefficient, and paired-sample t-tests. We found significant discrepancies between knowledge and actual use of medicinal plants. The number of known and actually used plants increased with increasing informant age and decreased with increasing years of formal education. Medicinal plant knowledge and use in these Mien communities is undergoing inter-generational erosion because of acculturation and interrupted knowledge transmission. Preservation of Mien medicinal plant intellectual heritage requires continued documentation concerning use, conservation, and sustainable management of this resource, which should be publicized to younger Mien.
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            Losing knowledge about plant use in the sierra de manantlan biosphere reserve, Mexico

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              Molecular Identification of Commercialized Medicinal Plants in Southern Morocco

              Background Medicinal plant trade is important for local livelihoods. However, many medicinal plants are difficult to identify when they are sold as roots, powders or bark. DNA barcoding involves using a short, agreed-upon region of a genome as a unique identifier for species– ideally, as a global standard. Research Question What is the functionality, efficacy and accuracy of the use of barcoding for identifying root material, using medicinal plant roots sold by herbalists in Marrakech, Morocco, as a test dataset. Methodology In total, 111 root samples were sequenced for four proposed barcode regions rpoC1, psbA-trnH, matK and ITS. Sequences were searched against a tailored reference database of Moroccan medicinal plants and their closest relatives using BLAST and Blastclust, and through inference of RAxML phylograms of the aligned market and reference samples. Principal Findings Sequencing success was high for rpoC1, psbA-trnH, and ITS, but low for matK. Searches using rpoC1 alone resulted in a number of ambiguous identifications, indicating insufficient DNA variation for accurate species-level identification. Combining rpoC1, psbA-trnH and ITS allowed the majority of the market samples to be identified to genus level. For a minority of the market samples, the barcoding identification differed significantly from previous hypotheses based on the vernacular names. Conclusions/Significance Endemic plant species are commercialized in Marrakech. Adulteration is common and this may indicate that the products are becoming locally endangered. Nevertheless the majority of the traded roots belong to species that are common and not known to be endangered. A significant conclusion from our results is that unknown samples are more difficult to identify than earlier suggested, especially if the reference sequences were obtained from different populations. A global barcoding database should therefore contain sequences from different populations of the same species to assure the reference sequences characterize the species throughout its distributional range.

                Author and article information

                J Ethnobiol Ethnomed
                J Ethnobiol Ethnomed
                Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
                BioMed Central (London )
                19 February 2015
                : 11
                : 10
                [ ]Institute of Traditional Medicine, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, P.O. Box 65001, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
                [ ]Department of Organismal Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden
                [ ]Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Darwinweg 4, Postbus 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
                [ ]The Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1172, NO-0318 Oslo, Norway
                © Otieno et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

                This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                : 21 October 2014
                : 10 December 2014
                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2015

                Health & Social care
                vernacular names,medicinal plants,wildlife trade,tanzania,sub-saharan africa,traditional medicine,folk taxonomy


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