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Environment change threatens indigenous know-how
Date:2/13/2014

The way indigenous cultures around the globe use traditional medicines and pass on knowledge developed over centuries is directly linked to the natural environment, new research has found.

This makes indigenous cultures susceptible to environmental change, a threat that comes on top of the challenges posed by globalisation.

"Traditional medicine provides health care for more than half the world's population, with 80 per cent of people in developing countries relying on these practices to maintain their livelihood. It is a very important part of traditional knowledge," says Dr Haris Saslis-Lagoudakis, from The Australian National University's (ANU) Research School of Biology.

"This knowledge is typically passed down from generation to generation, or it is 'borrowed' from neighbours. Because of this borrowing, globalisation can homogenise medicinal practices of different communities, leading to loss of medicinal remedies."

But this is not the only challenge that indigenous cultures face.

"Imminent changes in the environment also pose a threat to traditional knowledge," explains Dr Saslis-Lagoudakis.

"Traditional medicine utilises plants and animals to make natural remedies. Despite a lot of these species being under threat due to ongoing climatic changes and other human effects on the environment, the effect that these changes can have on traditional medicine is not thoroughly understood."

Dr Saslis-Lagoudakis and a team of international researchers led by the University of Reading (UK) investigated how the environment shapes medicinal plant use in indigenous cultures, specifically Nepal, a country in the Himalayans that has outstanding cultural, environmental and biological diversity.

"By understanding the relationship between environment and traditional knowledge, we can then understand how cultures have responded to changes in the environment in the past," he says.

The team
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Contact: ANU Media Office
media@anu.edu.au
61-261-257-979
Australian National University
Source:Eurekalert  

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