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Ethnobotanical Plant Conservation
Kawagebo Mountain, NW Yunnan

The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) is conducting research on the useful plants near six villages in the Eastern Himalayan region of Menri or Medicine Mountains in Yunnan, China. The Menri Range of NW Yunnan is of global importance for its alpine and subalpine biodiversity, endemism, and variation, both genetic and environmental. Two major issues this project attempts to study are successful indigenous management of biodiversity and threats and mitigation of threats to biodiversity posed by over harvesting of useful plant resources.

At present this project includes seven distinct studies:

  • GIS analysis of useful plants of Meili
  • Market study of collection, use, and sale of useful plants
  • Population ecology of threatened useful plants
  • Environmental gradient analysis
  • Land-use systems management
  • Sacred sites analysis
  • Alpine mosaic study

As part of the land-use systems management study MBG botanists in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy(TNC), Tibetan doctors, and local villagers, will use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology to create land-use maps to document indigenous systems of biodiversity management. This part of the study was developed in conjunction with Ford Foundation’s capacity building program.

Alpine community in NW Yunnan Alpine community in NW Yunnan

Alpine community in NW Yunnan
Bee Gunn

Traditional Tibetan land-use management preserves and enhances biodiversity, and as such strategies for conservation in these areas should incorporate these traditional management techniques for natural vegetation, agriculture, forestry, and sacred landscapes. Villagers will be interviewed regarding crops, useful plants, and management techniques. GIS analyses will be used at the local scale to document seasonal, annual, and elevational differences in land use for each project area. Cultivated terraces in Rizui

Cultivated terraces in Rizui
Bee Gunn

Creating Land Use Maps

Land-use will be mapped for each of the six villages using satellite images, IPAQ handheld computers, and ArcPad GIS software. Geo-referenced Ikonos satellite images for the area around each village were used to digitize the existing landscape features including cultivated terraces, summer pastures, houses, and sacred sites using ArcMap edit tools. In the field MBG botanists, in partnership with local villagers, will document the features of each land-use polygon using drop down lists developed in ArcPad.

Once the land-use maps are completed, the area of each landscape feature and the relationship of land-use management techniques within and between villages can be analyzed. This project will be done in closecooperation with the main stakeholders involved, the Tibetan people. The long-term goal of this project is to research, develop, and support cultural practices that effect nature conservation and cultural systems that maintain and enhance biodiversity.

Ikonos satellite image of a village in the study site

Ikonos satellite image of
a village in the study site


Useful Plants

Vegetable farm in Dequin

Vegetable farm in Dequin
Bee Gunn

Sausurrea spp.

Sausurrea spp.
Wayne Law

Tricholoma matsutake

Tricholoma matsutake
Wayne Law

MBG principal staff for this project includes Jan Salick, Curator of Ethnobotany, Bee Gunn, Senior Herbarium Asst. (Ford Project Training Coordinator), Anthony Amend, Ethnobotanist (Senior Herbarium Asst.), and Trish Distler, GIS Analyst.

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