GARY PAUL NABHAN is an agricultural ecologist, currently Director of Science at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. He is also cofounder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a grassroots multicultural conservation organization. He is a John Burroughs Medal in nature writing, and a MacArthur Fellow and Pew Scholar on Conservation and Environment. He is the author of numerous books, most recently the coauthored volume "The Forgotten Pollinators" (1996).
Biodiversity is more than mere species richness; it is also the diversity of interactions between biota, including mutualistic relationships. Using examples from the Kunkaak (Seri) and O'odham (Pima and Papago), I will demonstrate how indigenous peoples have long recognized diverse interactions between flora and fauna that biologists are only now beginning to notice and study. Some of these interactions were in fact taken advantage of by indigenous communities: the "robbing" of packrat middens of mesquite pods and other foodstuffs; the collection of edible sphinx moth larvae off larval host plants; and the use of plant indicators to locate turtles. Other "wild" plants were managed on such a scale that their biotic interactions with pollinators and seed dispersers were undoubtedly affected. Much of this knowledge does not directly translate into contemporary economic benefits, as does medicinal plant lore sought by bioprospectors. Yet it is potentially the most unique domain within ethnobiological knowledge, perhaps because it is oftentimes place-specific. I propose that ethnobiological conservationists focus more effort on documenting indigenous knowledge of interaction diversity among geographically isolated language groups in areas of high biological endemism and/or diversity.
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