Portrait of Dr Rajindra Puri

Dr Rajindra Puri

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Anthropology
Director, Centre for Biocultural Diversity
Programme Convenor for MSc Ethnobotany
Programme Convenor for MA/MSc Environmental Anthropology


Trained as an ecological anthropologist and ethnobiologist, over the past 25 years Dr Raj Puri has been studying the historical ecology of a rainforest valley in Indonesian Borneo. He has been documenting the ethnobiological knowledge of Penan Benalui hunter-gatherers and Kenyah swidden agriculturalists, elucidating the causes and consequences of trade in wild animals and plants, and developing theory and methods for an applied conservation anthropology.

Raj has served as an ethnobiology consultant to a CIFOR project examining Multipurpose Landscape Assessment, worked in northern Vietnam (2001) for Flora and Fauna International, and collaborated on Global Diversity Foundation research and training projects in Morocco (Wildlife trade in Southern Morocco), Namibia (Kalahari Garden Project) and Sabah, Malaysia (Ethnobiology of proposed traditional use zones in Crocker Range Park, Participatory approaches to nominating Crocker Range Biosphere Reserve).

More recently, he and his Phd students have been working on local adaptation to climatic variability (El Nino) and climate change in Borneo and elsewhere. He was a co-investigator on the ESPA-funded project Human Adaptation to Biodiversity Change, 2010-2012, which took him to the Western Ghats of India for field research in 2011. This work drew him into research on invasive species and other ways in which changes in biodiversity due to climate change threaten biocultural diversity and local livelihoods. He is now thinking about how anthropologists can contribute to climate-change science and specifically developing mixed methods for studying local responses to environmental change. To this end, he is now studying responses to complex transformations in rural landscapes in Europe (iberian cork oak landscapes and Kent agriculture).

Research interests

Current projects

Previous projects



  • SE306: Animals, People and Plants: An introduction to Ethnobiology
  • SE308: Skills for Anthropology and Conservation
  • SE542: Environment and Culture
  • SE594: Anthropology and Development


Dr Puri is programme convenor for the MA/MSc in Environmental Anthropology and MSc in Ethnobotany

  • SE802: Research Methods in Social Anthropology
  • SE807: Contemporary Ethnography in Environmental Anthropology
  • SE831: Environmental Anthropology
  • SE832: Ethnobiological Knowledge Systems
  • SE845: Practical Methods in Conservation Social Science


Current students

  • Clive Dennis - How do the Banawá perceive and respond to environmental change?
  • Jason IrvingThe sale and use of Jamaican roots tonics: Health sovereignty in the Black Atlantic
  • Kay Evelina Lewis-Jones - Banking on biodiversity and what it means to conserve a wild seed in the Anthropocene: perceptions of threat and value in a conservation network.
  • Craig Ritchie - Natural resource management practices and cultural change within indigenous communities of the Curanja and Purús Rivers in Alto Purús, Peru: implications for biodiversity (Peru).


  • Director, Centre for Biocultural Diversity.
  • Affiliate partner on the MEDPLANT ITN
  • RAI Council member
  • American Friends of the RAI, Trustee
  • Borneo Research Council, Board of Trustees
  • Advances in Research: Environment and Society (Berghahn Books), Editorial Collective
  • Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology Series (Berghahn Books), Kent editorial committee

Dr Puri co-ordinated the Erasmus Intensive Programme, 'Biocultural Diversity of local people and migrants' in Europe: Concepts and Interdisciplinary Method for a consortium of ten universities in Europe (2009-2011). The consortium now consists of 13 universities and plans are in the works for more training courses in the future. In the meantime, he teaches on the Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) at the Rachel Carson Centre in Munich.

In September 2010, Dr Puri convened a seminar 'New Directions in Urgent Anthropology' that brought together past and present fellows of the RAI's Urgent Anthropology Fellowship to discuss their work, its impacts and future needs and directions. Videos of some of the presentations are available on the RAI website. An edited volume of the papers presented at the seminar is in preparation. 



  • Garcia-Gomez, E., Perez-Badia, R., Pererira, J. and Puri, R. (2017). The consumption of acorns (from Quercus spp.) in the Central West of Iberian Peninsula in the twentieth century. Economic Botany [Online] 71:256-268. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12231-017-9391-1.
    There is evidence of the consumption of acorns from Quercus species in the Iberian Peninsula from prehistory through the twentieth century up until the 1960s. Acorns were used primarily for human consumption, mainly during food shortages. The high abundance and even distribution of Quercus tree species made it possible for acorn consumption to be widespread across the Iberian Peninsula. The favored species was the holm oak (Quercus ilex subsp. ballota), because a large part of its harvest consists of sweet acorns, while in other species the acorns are almost always bitter. People developed a substantial knowledge base underpinning a great variety of uses of acorns, from eating them directly from the tree to preparation with very simple treatments, such as drying, roasting or boiling. By manipulating levels of bitterness in a number of species, cooks were able to prepare dishes that ranged from salty to sweet. Based on interviews with knowledgeable people and a review of ethnobotanical papers, this article describes the forms of consumption, the processed products, and the other uses of acorns of the species of the genus Quercus in the Central West of the Iberian Peninsula. We also suggest why acorns lost their prominence in the late 1960s. At present the main use of the acorn is as food for Iberian black pigs to obtain quality sausages. In addition, new products such as acorn liquor, caramels, and other items have recently appeared, marketed as distinctive products on a small scale.
  • Weckerle, C., de Boer, H., Puri, R., van Andel, T., Bussmann, R. and Leonti, M. (2017). Recommended standards for conducting and reporting ethnopharmacological field studies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [Online] 220:125-132. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2017.08.018.
    Ethnopharmacological relevance:
    What are the minimum methodological and conceptual requirements for an ethnopharmacological field study? How can the results of ethnopharmacological field studies be reported so that researchers with different backgrounds can draw on the results and develop new research questions and projects? And how should these field data be presented to get accepted in a scientific journal, such as the Journal of Ethnopharmacology? The objective of this commentary is to create a reference that covers the basic standards necessary during planning, conducting and reporting of field research.
    Materials and methods: We focus on conducting and reporting ethnopharmacological field studies on medicinal plants or materia medica and associated knowledge of a specific people or region. The article highlights the most frequent problems and pitfalls, and draws on published literature, fieldwork experience, and extensive insights from peer-review of field studies.
    Results: Research needs to be ethical and legal, and follow local and national regulations. Primary ethnopharmacological field data need to be collected and presented in a transparent and comprehensible way. In short this includes: 1) Relevant and concise research questions, 2) Thorough literature study encompassing all available information on the study site from different disciplines, 3) Appropriate methods to answer the research questions, 4) Proper plant use documentation, unambiguously linked to voucher specimens, and 5) Qualitative and quantitative analyses of the collected data, the latter relying on use-reports as basic units.
    Conclusion: Although not exhaustive, we provide an overview of the necessary main issues to consider for field research and data reporting including a list of minimal standards and recommendations for best practices. For methodological details and how to correctly apply specific methods, we refer to further reading of suggested textbooks and methods manuals.
  • Teixidor-Toneu, I., Martin, G., Puri, R., Ouhammou, A. and Hawkins, J. (2017). Treating infants with frigg: linking disease aetiologies, medicinal plant use and care-seeking behaviour in southern Morocco. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine [Online] 13:1-13. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13002-016-0129-4.
    Although most Moroccans rely to some extent on traditional medicine, the practice of frigg to treat paediatric ailments by elderly women traditional healers known as ferraggat, has not yet been documented. We describe the role of these specialist healers, document the medicinal plants they use, and evaluate how and why their practice is changing.

    Ethnomedicinal and ethnobotanical data were collected using semi-structured interviews and observations of medical encounters. Information was collected from traditional healers, namely ferraggat, patients, herbalists and public health professionals. Patients’ and healers’ narratives about traditional medicine were analysed and medicinal plant lists were compiled from healers and herbalists. Plants used were collected, vouchered and deposited in herbaria.

    Ferragat remain a key health resource to treat infant ailments in the rural High Atlas, because mothers believe only they can treat what are perceived to be illnesses with a supernatural cause. Ferragat possess baraka, or the gift of healing, and treat mainly three folk ailments, taqait, taumist and iqdi, which present symptoms similar to those of ear infections, tonsillitis and gastroenteritis. Seventy plant species were used to treat these ailments, but the emphasis on plants may be a recent substitute for treatments that used primarily wool and blood. This change in materia medica is a shift in the objects of cultural meaningfulness in response to the increasing influence of orthodox Islam and state-sponsored modernisation, including public healthcare and schooling.

    Religious and other sociocultural changes are impacting the ways in which ferraggat practice. Treatments based on no-longer accepted symbolic elements have been readily abandoned and substituted by licit remedies, namely medicinal plants, which play a legitimisation role for the practice of frigg. However, beliefs in supernatural ailment aetiologies, as well as lack or difficult access to biomedical alternatives, still underlie the need for specialist traditional healers.
  • Ellen, R. and Puri, R. (2017). Conceptualising ’core’ medicinal floras: A comparative and methodological study of phytomedical resources in related Indonesian populations. Conservation and Society [Online] 14:345-358. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/0972-4923.197608.
    Although there have been comparative studies of the botanical content and patterning of ethnopharmacopoeias across different ecological zones, there are few attempts to compare these systematically within the same ethnographic and ecological areas in Southeast Asia. This paper undertakes a simple quantitative survey of the medicinal plant resources of three populations on the island of Seram in the Moluccas, and then compares the results with those from five populations on Borneo. The comparison reveals some surprising omissions and patterns; given what is known about the medicinal use of plants in islands of Southeast Asia from other sources. The paper discusses ecological, cultural, and methodological reasons for the lack of expected congruence. A model of medicinal plant resource pools is developed to aid comparison, and it is suggested that we need to examine carefully what might be understood by a ‘core’ medicinal flora. While biodiversity loss is evident in the areas where the studies have been conducted, and this may impact some actual and more potential medicinal plants, it is less likely to erode core ethno pharmacopoeias.
  • Teixidor-Toneu, I., Martin, G., Ouhammou, A., Puri, R. and Hawkins, J. (2016). An ethnomedicinal survey of a Tashelhit speaking community in the High Atlas, Morocco. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [Online] 188:96-110. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2016.05.009.
    Ethnopharmacological relevance:
    Traditional knowledge about medicinal plants from a poorly studied region, the High Atlas in
    Morocco, is reported here for the first time; this permits consideration of efficacy and safety of current
    practices whilst highlighting species previously not known to have traditional medicinal use.
    Aim of the study:
    Our study aims to document local medicinal plant knowledge among Tashelhit speaking communities
    through ethnobotanical survey, identifying preferred species and new medicinal plant citations and
    illuminating the relationship between emic and etic ailment classifications.
    Materials and methods:
    Ethnobotanical data were collected using standard methods and with prior informed consent obtained
    before all interactions, data were characterized using descriptive indices and medicinal plants and
    healing strategies relevant to local livelihoods were identified.
    151 vernacular names corresponding to 159 botanical species were found to be used to treat 36 folk
    ailments grouped in 14 biomedical use categories. Thirty-five (22%) are new medicinal plant records
    in Morocco, and 26 described as used for the first time anywhere. Fidelity levels (FL) revealed low
    specificity in plant use, particularly for the most commonly reported plants. Most plants are used in
    mixtures. Plant use is driven by local concepts of disease, including “hot” and “cold” classification
    and beliefs in supernatural forces.
    Local medicinal plant knowledge is rich in the High Atlas, where local populations still rely on
    medicinal plants for healthcare. We found experimental evidence of safe and effective use of
    medicinal plants in the High Atlas; but we highlight the use of eight poisonous species.
  • Sheil, D., Cohen, J., Colfer, C., Price, D., Puri, R., Ruiz-Perez, M., Sugandi, Y., Vedeld, P., Wollenberg, E. and Yasmi, Y. (2016). The moral basis for conservation - reflections on Dickman et al. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment [Online] 14:67-69. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/fee.1224.
    Dickman et al . (2015; Front Ecol Environ 13[6] : 325–31) suggested that “moral relativism” and “misguided respect” for cultural practices impede biological conservation. They favor a world in which conservation scientists armed with universal norms will more readily implement their solutions without the consent of local stakeholders. While we acknowledge their concerns, their vision, however tentative, appears misguided. Here we highlight some objections.
  • D’Ambrosio, U. and Puri, R. (2016). Foodways in transition: food plants, diet and local perceptions of change in a Costa Rican Ngäbe community. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine [Online] 12:1-32. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0071-x.

    Indigenous populations are undergoing rapid ethnobiological, nutritional and socioeconomic transitions while being increasingly integrated into modernizing societies. To better understand the dynamics of these transitions, this article aims to characterize the cultural domain of food plants and analyze its relation with current day diets, and the local perceptions of changes given amongst the Ngäbe people of Southern Conte-Burica, Costa Rica, as production of food plants by its residents is hypothesized to be drastically in recession with an decreased local production in the area and new conservation and development paradigms being implemented.


    Extensive freelisting, interviews and workshops were used to collect the data from 72 participants on their knowledge of food plants, their current dietary practices and their perceptions of change in local foodways, while cultural domain analysis, descriptive statistical analyses and development of fundamental explanatory themes were employed to analyze the data.


    Results show a food plants domain composed of 140 species, of which 85 % grow in the area, with a medium level of cultural consensus, and some age-based variation. Although many plants still grow in the area, in many key species a decrease on local production–even abandonment–was found, with much reduced cultivation areas. Yet, the domain appears to be largely theoretical, with little evidence of use; and the diet today is predominantly dependent on foods bought from the store (more than 50 % of basic ingredients), many of which were not salient or not even recognized as ‘food plants’ in freelists exercises. While changes in the importance of food plants were largely deemed a result of changes in cultural preferences for store bought processed food stuffs and changing values associated with farming and being food self-sufficient, Ngäbe were also aware of how changing household livelihood activities, and the subsequent loss of knowledge and use of food plants, were in fact being driven by changes in social and political policies, despite increases in forest cover and biodiversity.


    Ngäbe foodways are changing in different and somewhat disconnected ways: knowledge of food plants is varied, reflecting most relevant changes in dietary practices such as lower cultivation areas and greater dependence on food from stores by all families. We attribute dietary shifts to socioeconomic and political changes in recent decades, in particular to a reduction of local production of food, new economic structures and agents related to the State and globalization.
  • Lahsen, M., Mathews, A., Dove, M., Orlove, B., Puri, R., Barnes, J., McElwee, P., Moore, F., O’Reilly, J. and Yeager, K. (2015). Strategies for changing the intellectual climate. Nature Climate Change [Online] 5:391-392. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2596.
    Castree et al.(2014) are correct that a ‘single, seamless concept of integrated knowledge’ cannot do justice to
    the diversity of meanings that need to be brought to bear in addressing the challenges of global environmental change. We also agree with them that environmental social sciences and humanities (ESSH) can make important contributions to global environmental change (GEC) science. However, their charge that we ignore the
    full range of anthropological contributions to understanding of climate change reflects
    a misreading of our recent Perspective in this journal (Barnes et al 2013), as we only attempted to
    discuss a few exemplary strands of the many contributions from anthropology to a richer understanding of climate change (for a more detailed discussion, see our forthcoming edited volume, Barnes and Dove, eds. 2015).
  • Volpato, G. and Puri, R. (2014). Dormancy and Revitalization: The fate of ethnobotanical knowledge of camel forage among Sahrawi nomads and refugees of Western Sahara. Ethnobotany Research and Applications [Online] 12:183-210. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17348/era.12.0.183-210.
    Knowledge about forage is fundamental to the survival of pastoral populations around the world. In this paper, we address the knowledge of camel forage of Sahrawi nomads and refugees of Western Sahara. We analyze the distribution of this knowledge through cultural consensus analysis and develop an explanation for intra-cultural variation based on changing processes of knowledge transmission. In total, 100 plant species were free-listed by informants, with five species (i.e., Acacia tortilis (Forssk.) Hayne, Nucularia perrinii Batt., Astragalus vogelii (Webb) Bornm., Panicum turgidum Forssk., and Stipagrostis plumosa Munro ex T.Anderson) found to be culturally highly salient. These five represent five local categories of forage that are necessary for camel management in the Western Sahara desert. The Sahrawi listed 25 forage plants that influence the taste and properties of camel milk, demonstrating that cultural values, as much as survival functions, underpin local knowledge systems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, age and nomadic experience are positively correlated with forage knowledge. Forced displacement and sedentarization are hypothesized as causes of progressive non-use of this knowledge and the lack of its transmission to younger generations of refugees. Nonetheless, across the study area, refugees are re-engaging with pastoralism and nomadism, which is leading to a revitalization of forage knowledge and its transmission. This should be regarded as an adaptation pathway for refugees.
  • Barnes, J., Dove, M., Lahsen, M., Mathews, A., McElwee, P., McIntosh, R., Moore, F., O’Reilly, J., Orlove, B., Puri, R., Weiss, H. and Yeager, K. (2013). Contribution of anthropology to the study of climate change. Nature Climate Change [Online] 3:541-544. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1775.
    Understanding the challenge that climate change poses and crafting appropriate adaptation and mitigation mechanisms requires input from the breadth of the natural and social sciences. Anthropology's in-depth fieldwork methodology, long engagement in questions of society–environment interactions and broad, holistic view of society yields valuable insights into the science, impacts and policy of climate change. Yet the discipline's voice in climate change debates has remained a relatively marginal one until now. Here, we identify three key ways that anthropological research can enrich and deepen contemporary understandings of climate change.
  • Sheil, D., Basuki, I., German, L., Kuyper, T., Limberg, G., Puri, R., Sellato, B., van Noordwijk, M. and Wollenberg, E. (2012). Do Anthropogenic Dark Earths occur in the interior of Borneo? Some initial observations from East Kalimantan. Forests [Online] 3:207-229. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/f3020207.
    Anthropogenic soils of the Amazon Basin (Terra Preta, Terra Mulata) reveal that pre-Colombian peoples made lasting improvements in the agricultural potential of nutrient-poor soils. Some have argued that applying similar techniques could improve agriculture over much of the humid tropics, enhancing local livelihoods and food security, while also sequestering large quantities of carbon to mitigate climate change. Here, we present preliminary evidence for Anthropogenic Dark Earths (ADEs) in tropical Asia. Our surveys in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) identified several sites where soils possess an anthropogenic development and context similar in several respects to the Amazon’s ADEs. Similarities include riverside locations, presence of useful fruit trees, spatial extent as well as soil characteristics such as dark color, high carbon content (in some cases), high phosphorus levels, and improved apparent fertility in comparison to neighboring soils. Local people value these soils for cultivation but are unaware of their origins. We discuss these soils in the context of local history and land-use and identify numerous unknowns. Incomplete biomass burning appears key to these modified soils. More study is required to clarify soil transformations in Borneo and to determine under what circumstances such soil improvements might remain ongoing.
  • Garay-Barayazarra, G. and Puri, R. (2011). Smelling the monsoon: Senses and traditional weather forecasting knowledge among the Kenyah Badeng farmers of Sarawak, Malaysia. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 10:21-30.
    The paper describes the rich variety of sensory knowledge associated with weather and climate prediction practices of
    Kenyah Badeng rice farmers in Sarawak, East Malaysia. Ethnobiological and ethnographic methods were used to document
    knowledge underpinning traditional forecasting techniques. This body of ethno-climatological knowledge includes the
    skilled use of bodily senses such as sight, sound, touch and smell to gather information on clouds, wind, temperature,
    humidity and rain needed to assess present and coming weather. This perceptual information is interpreted with a cultural
    storehouse of weather/climate-related categories and experiences, and plays an influential role in the scheduling of daily
    agricultural activities and responding to the threats of extreme climatic variability, such as that brought on by ENSO events
    every few years. The research demonstrates the importance of thinking of traditional knowledge in broad terms, as much
    more than the declarative knowledge of wordlists, stories and instructions. The means of engagement with the environment
    are beyond words, in the realm of embodied skills such as smelling the monsoon.
  • Sheil, D., Puri, R., Wan, M., Basuki, I., van Heist, M., Liswanti, N., Rachmatika, I. and Samsoedin, I. (2006). Recognizing local people’s priorities for tropical forest biodiversity. Ambio 35:17-24.
    Tropical forest people often suffer from the same processes that threaten biodiversity. An improved knowledge of what is important to local people could improve decision making. This article examines the usefulness of explicitly asking what is important to local people. Our examples draw on biodiversity surveys in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). With local communities we characterized locally valued habitats, species, and sites, and their significance. This process clarified various priorities and threats, suggested refinements and limits to management options, and indicated issues requiring specific actions, further investigation, or both. It also shows how biological evaluations are more efficient with local guidance, and reveals potential for collaborations between local communities and those concerned with conservation. Such evaluations are a first step in facilitating the incorporation of local concerns into higher-level decision making. Conservationists who engage with local views can benefit from an expanded constituency, and from new opportunities for pursuing effective conservation.
  • Puri, R., Sheil, C., Wan, M., van Heist, M., Liswanti, N., Rukmiyati, M., Rachmatika, I. and Samsoedin, I. (2006). Local People’s Priorities for Biodiversity: Examples from the Forests of Indonesian Borneo. Ambio [Online] 35:17-24. Available at: https://doi.org/DOI not available.
  • Puri, R. and Donovan, D. (2004). Learning from traditional knowledge of non-timber forest products: Penan Benalui and the autoecology of Aquilaria in Indonesian Borneo. Ecology and Society [Online] 9:0-0. Available at: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss3/art3.
  • Vogl, C., Vogl-Lukasser, B. and Puri, R. (2004). Tools and methods for Data Collection in Ethnobotanical Studies of Homegardens. Field Methods 16:285-306.


  • Puri, R. (2005). Deadly Dances in the Bornean Rainforest: Hunting Knowledge of the Penan Benalui. Leiden, The Netherlands: KITLV Press.
  • Sheil, D. and Puri, R. (2003). Exploring Biological Diversity, Environment and Local people’s Perspectives in Forest Landscapes: Methods for a Multidisciplinary Landscape Assessment. Bogor, Indonesia: Centre for International Forestry Research.
    This document is intended for those interested in gathering natural resource information that reflects the needs of local communities. It describes a multidisciplinary survey developed with indigenous communities in the fores-rich landscapes of the Malinau watershed in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The final methods reflect a mixture of judgements, compromises and reactions to trials over many months. It is intended that it is useful to readers from diverse backgrounds given the multidisciplinary nature of the procedures described. This is not intended as a manual. It is a summary of lessons learned.
  • Puri, R. (2001). The Bulungan Ethnobiology Handbook. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.

Book section

  • Puri, R. (2015). The uniqueness of the everyday: Herders and invasive species in India. In: Barnes, J. and Dove, M. R. eds. Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 249-272. Available at: http://yalebooks.com/book/9780300198812/climate-cultures.
    This chapter approaches climate change through the quotidian response of herders in India to
    an invasive species whose proliferation is linked to increasing dry spells, thereby
    problematising the way that scientists and policymakers imagine climate as abstracted from
    its social context.
  • Puri, R. (2013). Transmitting Penan basketry knowledge and practice. In: Ellen, R. F., Lycett, S. J. and Johns, S. E. eds. Understanding Cultural Transmission in Anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 266-299. Available at: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=EllenUnderstanding.
    This chapter describes Penan (Indonesian Borneo) basket making and the way it is simultaneously adapting to new circumstances while still maintaining continuity with past traditions. The explanation for this continuity resides in the complex intersections of processes of cultural transmission and the sociocultural and economic contexts in which they occur. Of particular importance is the way in which Penan egalitarianism opens up the possibilities for simultaneous transmission and transformation of basketry practices between and within the generations.
  • Gamborg, C., Parsons, R., Puri, R. and Sandøe, P. (2012). Ethics and Research Methodologies for the Study of Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge. In: Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge: Sustaining Communities, Ecosystems and Biocultural Diversity. New York: Springer, pp. 535-562. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2144-9_14.
    This chapter examines some of the main research methodologies for studying traditional forest-related knowledge (TFRK). Initially, we address ethical issues, asking, for example, what constitutes proper handling of research results. The relationship between TFRK and modern science is then discussed from a methodological perspective, after which an account of some of the main methods used for studying such knowledge—including participant observation, interviews, cultural domain analysis, questionnaires, and workshops—is provided. Ethnographic approaches are recommended for documenting both verbal and tacit knowledge embedded in skills and practices, while the tools of cultural domain analysis allow for both quantitative and qualitative analysis of individual variation in knowledge. Finally, recurring elements of best practice are presented. If ethical and methodological questions are not addressed in a consistent and systematic manner from the outset of the research, the rights of TFRK owners may well be infringed, meaning that benefits will not accrue to the owners and that access to resources (such as genetic resources) may be suddenly curtailed. Thus, all parties must address the challenges raised by the maintenance, use, and protection of traditional forest-related knowledge when there is interaction between the holders and users of such knowledge.
  • Puri, R. (2011). Documenting Local Environmental Knowledge and Change. In: Newing, H. S. ed. Conducting Research in Conservation: Social Science Methods and Practice. London: Routledge, pp. 146-169.
  • Puri, R. (2010). Participant Observation. In: Newing, H. S., Eagle, C., Puri, R. K. and Watson, C. eds. Conducting Research in Conservation: Social Science Methods and Practice. London: Routledge, pp. 73-87.
  • Puri, R. (2010). Participatory Mapping. In: Newing, H. S., Eagle, C., Puri, R. K. and Watson, C. eds. Conducting Research in Conservation: A Social Science Perspective. London: Routledge, pp. 151-161.
  • Pardo de Santayana, M., Pieroni, A. and Puri, R. (2010). The ethnobotany of Europe, past and present. In: Pardo de Santayana, M., Pieroni, A. and Puri, R. K. eds. Ethnobotany in the New Europe: People, Health, and Wild Plant Resources. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 1-15.
  • Klimut, K. and Puri, R. (2007). The Punan from the Tubu’ River, East Kalimantan: a native voice on past, present and future circumstances. In: Sercombe, P. G. and Sellato, B. eds. Beyond the Green Myth: Borneo’s Hunter-Gatherers in the 21st Century. Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS Press, pp. 110-134.
  • Puri, R. (2007). Responses to medium-term stability in climate: El Nino, droughts and coping mechanisms of foragers and farmers in Borneo. In: Ellen, R. F. ed. Modern Crises and Traditional Strategies: Local Ecological Knowledge in Island Southeast Asia. Oxford: Berhahn Books, pp. 46-83.
  • Puri, R. (2005). Post-abandonment ecology of Penan fruit camps: Anthropological and ethnobiological approaches to the history of a rainforested valley in East Kalimantan. In: Dove, M. R., Sajise, P. E. and Doolittle, A. A. eds. Conserving Nature in Culture: Case Studies from Southeast Asia. New Haven, USA: Yale University Council on Southeast Asia Studies, pp. 25-82.
  • Colfer, C., Colchester, M., Joshi, L., Puri, R., Nygren, A. and Lopez, C. (2005). Traditional Knowledge and Human Well-Being in the 21st Century. In: Mery, G., Alfaro, R., Kanninen, M. and Lobovikov, M. eds. Forests in the Global Balance - Changing Paradigms. IUFRO- World Forests Society and Environment Project, pp. 173-182.
  • Puri, R. and Donovan, D. (2004). Asia’s Tropical Forests in a Changing Global Context: Can expert-led Policy-making Cope with Change?. In: De Dapper, M. ed. Tropical Forests in a Changing Global Context. Brussels: UNESCO and the Belgian Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences, pp. 61-92. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/mab/publications/pdf/tropical_forest.pdf.
  • Puri, R. and Maxwell, O. (2002). Forest use and natural resource management in two villages adjacent to Pu Luong Nature reserve and Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. In: Apel, U., Maxwell, O., Nguyen, T., Nurse, M., Puri, R. K. and Trieu, V. eds. Collaborative Management and Conservation: A Strategy for Community Based Natural Resource Management of Special Use Forest in Vietnam - Case Studies from Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa Province. Cambridge: Flora and Fauna International / World Bank, pp. 37-122.
  • Puri, R. (2001). Local knowledge and manipulation of the fruit ’mata kucing’ (Dimocarpus longan)in East Kalimantan. In: Victor, M. and Barash, A. eds. Cultivating Forests: Alternative Forest Management Practices and Techniques for Community Forestry. Bangkok Thailand: RECOFTC, pp. 98-110.

Edited book

  • Puri, R. (2010). Ethnobotany in the New Europe: People, Health and Wild Plant Resources. Pardo de Santayana, M., Pieroni, A. and Puri, R. K. eds. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
    The study of European wild food plants and herbal medicines is an old discipline that has been invigorated by a new generation of researchers pursuing ethnobotanical studies in fresh contexts. Modern botanical and medical science itself was built on studies of Medieval Europeans’ use of food plants and medicinal herbs. In spite of monumental changes introduced in the Age of Discovery and Mercantile Capitalism, some communities, often of immigrants in foreign lands, continue to hold on to old recipes and traditions, while others have adopted and enculturated exotic plants and remedies into their diets and pharmacopoeia in new and creative ways. Now in the 21st century, in the age of the European Union and Globalization, European folk botany is once again dynamically responding to changing cultural, economic, and political contexts. The authors and studies presented in this book reflect work being conducted across Europe’s many regions. They tell the story of the on-going evolution of human-plant relations in one of the most bioculturally dynamic places on the planet, and explore new approaches that link the re-evaluation of plant-based cultural heritage with the conservation and use of biocultural diversity.


  • Loh, J. (2017). Indicators of the Status of and Trends in Global Biological, Linguistic and Biocultural Diversity.
    Biodiversity is in global decline and around 19% of the world's vertebrate species are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List (Baillie et al. 2010; IUCN 2013). Linguistic diversity is also in decline and it is believed that as many as 90% of the world's 7,000 languages are threatened with extinction this century (Krauss 1992; Nettle and Romaine 2000). It has also been noted that there is a strong similarity in the distributions of terrestrial species diversity and linguistic diversity at the global scale, with the greatest richness found in the humid tropics and the lowest richness in the cold temperate zones (Mace and Pagel 1995; Sutherland 2003; Gavin et al. 2013). The term biocultural diversity has come into use to describe the collective diversity of species, languages and cultures around the world and their ongoing declines (Maffi 2001b; Harmon 2002). One of the papers presented here develops the first national index of biocultural diversity, which confirms the pattern of greatest richness in the tropics, particularly in Southeast Asia (Loh and Harmon 2005).
    However, measures of the state of biological, linguistic and biocultural diversity based on richness alone simply record the number of species or languages present and ignore underlying trends in abundance or populations of species or speakers of languages. Extinction risk has been the most widely-used measure of the status of both species and languages, but indicators based on time-series population data offer an alternative and more responsive measure of status and trends. The other papers presented here describe the development of Living Planet Index (Loh et al. 2005; Collen et al. 2009), an indicator which aggregates trends in populations of several thousand vertebrate species worldwide and shows an overall decline of about 30% over four decades since 1970, and the Index of Linguistic Diversity (Harmon and Loh 2010; Loh and Harmon 2014), a closely-related indicator based on trends in speaker numbers of around a thousand languages worldwide, and which also shows a decline of about 30% over the same period. At the regional level, the respective trends diverge. For biodiversity, there was a greater rate of decline in the tropics compared with temperate regions, whereas for linguistic diversity, there was a far higher rate of decline in the Americas, Australia and the Pacific compared with Africa, Asia and Europe. An analysis of the threat status of 1,500 languages using the IUCN Red List criteria reveals that 27% languages are threatened with extinction and confirms the regional pattern in the status of languages apparent in the Index of Linguistic Diversity. The differing regional patterns between the declines in languages and species reflect differences in the proximate drivers of diversity loss, where habitat loss or degradation are the major causes of species population declines (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005), while linguistic diversity is lost primarily through language shift, a process whereby a politically, socially or economically dominant language displaces local or indigenous languages either as a result of colonialization, industrialization or migration (Nettle 1999).
  • Benessaiah, N. (2015). Authority, Anarchy and Equity: A Political Ecology of Social Change in the Algerian Sahara.
    This thesis charts and theorises a general transition from authoritarian to participatory forms of governance and natural resource management, as viewed from the locale of a Saharan oasis town situated within wider temporal and spatial change processes. Ostrom’s (2014) work on the ability of communities to regulate access to the commons hinges on resource users jointly agreeing on and conforming to rules of use. Similarly, recent theoretical developments related to Social Ecological Systems and adaptive management also emphasise group consensus as a prerequisite for adaption. These approaches presume a degree of equality in social relations across the group. In Beni Isguen, Algeria, by contrast, the management of water commons is complicated by class inequalities. This region has recently seen a shift from religion to capital as the dominant ideology behind ruling factions, entailing the contraction of a theocratic influence, with the accession of a secular merchant class. This latter faction has achieved this by ideologically and pragmatically positioning themselves within the hierarchical administration of the nation-state, and thus conforming to national laws. This key shift in political alignment followed a long period of local resistance to over-arching ruling powers. I argue that this conformation has entailed a displacement of a localised ‘social contract’ whereby welfare, labour and regulation were previously achieved through the ‘moral economy’ of reciprocal relations, to a citizen-state contract based on the assumption of rights and certain services (e.g. protection of private property, creation and maintenance of infrastructure), and a reliance on the market to provide goods and other services (e.g. labour). These historical social changes have implications for theoretical developments regarding the role of the citizen-state relationship in terms of the protection of private property vs. protection of communal property, of anthropological perspectives of legal pluralism, and social contract theory.

    Furthermore, the thesis describes mixed modes of resource management involving new voluntary associations as alternative forms of local governance from below, alongside customary regulatory officials in charge of water. The emancipatory idea of some regarding civil society has received thorough critique by anthropologists (Benthall 2000; Comaroff & Comaroff 1999), yet along with Butcher (2014), I argue that despite this, the recent opening of the civic sector has created an opening for new forms of activity within the Algerian political landscape. However, the informal agreements of voluntary associations appear to lack the ‘teeth’ necessary to regulate uncooperative individuals. Authority today is locally perceived as the prerogative of the state, and so some state regulation appears necessary. The study thus views these processes from the viewpoint of the crucial determinant of life in the desert: water, and from there its social dependents, and how they organise themselves.
  • Doffana, Z. (2014). ‘Dagucho [Podocarpus Falcatus] Is Abbo!’ Wonsho Sacred Sites, Sidama, Ethiopia: Origins, Maintenance Motives, Consequences and Conservation Threats.
    This thesis addresses six main objectives answering questions on the origin, nature and social organization of SNS and their custodians; motivations for, and BCD conservation consequences of, their maintenance; threats SNS and ancestral institutions face and existing governance and protection instruments, with focus on local perceptions among the Wonsho of Sidama, Ethiopia. The study employs anthropologically-oriented, but interdisciplinary, conceptual framework and mixed methods to collect and analyse data. A year of fieldwork (July 2012-June 2013) was carried out using six major data collection methods (including interviews, BD inventory and HHS). The data were analysed using NVivo 10 and SPSS 20/21. The results are presented and discussed in seven key thematic areas and six chapter headings. The main findings are summarized as follows:

    1. Forty-eight SNS (whose sizes ranging from a site of a single tree to a 90.6 ha and ages from 28 to ca 375 years) were identified in seven PAs. Three criteria were used to identify a typology of Wonsho SNS: spatial-clan structure, function and protection status. SAR was identified as the core of the origin, social organization, governance and geography of SNS and other BCD protection areas. Twenty-two of SNS were protected by SAR practitioners and four by Protestant Christians. The rest were either lost or transformed.

    2. Answers to the question of why SNS are maintained are interpreted as linked to ancestral conceptions of the natural world, knowledge about, and practice relating to, it. The people valued SNS and native trees as ‘life’, ‘beauty’, ‘ancestor symbolizers’, ‘temples’, ‘wealth’, ‘shade’, ‘healing agents’, ‘food banks’, ‘place and name identifiers’, and ‘tribunal courts’ among others. Certain salient norms and practices, supporting tree biodiversity, are identified and interpreted as the foundation of the motivation for the maintenance of SNS.

    3. 154 floral and 33 faunal species were documented for their reported and observed past and present existence in 26 of the 48 SNS and other informal protection areas. A partial inventory identified about 133 flora and some fauna, including two locally endangered species, Colobus guerezza and Tauraco ruspoli in various SNSs. Twenty-two locally reported endangered native trees were found here, of which ten were reportedly found nowhere. Eighteen major woody species were identified as extractively conserved in various informal protection areas, notably agroforests.

    4. Forty-three types of uses of trees were identified. Eighteen woody species were identified as playing crucial socio-economic role; seven of these being culturally important and Podocarpus falcatus was identified as a truly ‘cultural keystone species’. The maintenance of SNS and native trees has important role through provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural ecosystem services.

    5. Maintenance of SNS and other botanic landscapes were found to contribute positively towards community health, herbal medicine and conservation of medicinal plants. SNS are perceived as key resources for health and wellbeing. Sixty-two percent of surveyed HHs accessed medicinal plants from SNS where 48% of the identified plants (including nine that were reported as locally endangered) were found.

    6. The SNS and ancestral institutions faced threats. Fourteen SNS were lost, eight severely degraded through other land uses and the existing 26 also threatened in seven studied PAs. Twenty-two important native trees were reportedly threatened; ten of these exited only in the SNS. Twelve native woody species were reportedly lost. SAR is threatened (e.g. declined from 13.6% in 1994 to 2.7% in 2007). Eroding factors, especially external ones, have been intensifying since the 1890s, but momentum added over the past 50-60 years, salient drivers being introduction of cash economy, modern religions, modern education, misguided state policies, rapid population growth and resultant socio-economic pressures.

    7. The SNS have for centuries been protected through ‘spirit agency and policing’ in a structure that gave supreme place to ancestors who influenced and guided governance. Some key principles of SNS management were identified, including ‘spirit-policing’, dreams and oracles in decision making, protecting entire habitat, protecting species, etc. In recent years, protection efforts have improved, with emerging collaborative governance, but these suffered from poor resourcing, coordination and fragmentation; and the future of SNS, native tree species and the SAR seemed uncertain despite some locals were optimistic.

    The study concludes the SNS and associated institutions of Wonsho have resiliently existed as ‘guardians of Sidama biocultural diversity’ and are showcases for the mutual adaptations of tree biodiversity and ancestral traditions. The study discusses a set of implications and recommendations for further research and action.

    The contribution of the study lies in the following areas which appear to be under-represented in the current literature: (a) qualitative analysis of the ontology, nature, structures, functions, geography and dynamisms of SNS and custodians, demonstrating that Wonsho SNS are not relics from static past but dynamic socio-ecological systems; (b) in-depth discussion of the role of SNS in conserving both biodiversity and cultural diversity; (c) a nuanced analysis of why and how the SNS are maintained, (d) local perceptions and parameters of the values and roles of, and threats facing, SNS and related local institutions; (e) our understanding of what constitutes ‘biocultural diversity’ and the indicators for cultural diversity when this concept is applied at a local scale; (e) interdisciplinary conceptual and analytical tools to understand the socio-ecological and biocultural systems embodied in sacred sites, combining concepts from a range of social and natural sciences, notably anthropology and conservation biology.
  • Wilkin, P. (2014). Transmission and Commoditisation of Medicinal Plant Knowledge in the Marketplaces of Oruro, Bolivia.
    This thesis analyses how Andean people’s knowledge of medicinal plants and the relationship between environment and health is represented, transmitted and commoditised in the marketplaces of the department of Oruro, Bolivia. Considering the increase in urban population and their dependence on marketplaces for medicinal plant remedies, this thesis examines the role of marketplaces and the importance of specialist stallholders in the transmission of knowledge. The central research site of Oruro is a multi-cultural city located on the Andean plateau in southwest Bolivia, a population of Spanish, Quechua and Aymara speakers with a pluralistic medical system. Fieldwork was carried out over 18 months with market stallholders in Oruro combining quantitative and qualitative methods with ethnographic documentation of knowledge transmission events.
    This thesis found that medicinal plant marketplaces in Oruro are highly regulated social systems that incorporate Andean socio-economic mechanisms, including ritual performance for the transmission of cultural knowledge, and the regulation of resource distribution and use. The development of a ‘chemical landscape’ model demonstrated that social exchange and trade between ecosystems and altitudinal zones broadens the spectrum of medicinal compounds available, contributes to the complexity of herbal mixtures and can limit exploitation of local plant populations. The market stallholders use specialist classifications that identify chemical properties, toxicity and variations between plant species and ecological regions. Plant classifications varied with the context and location in which they were used, and humoral classification enabled the selection and combination of plants in mixtures and justified remedy efficacy for specialists and non-specialists. Andean cultural beliefs including complementary opposites enabled transmission of knowledge on the medicinal properties of plants between highland consumers and lowland producers, and defined traditional Andean mixture efficacy.
    These findings demonstrate that, although state intervention and identity politics are redefining perceptions of medicinal knowledge, the market exchange system centred in Oruro city creates localised specialist knowledge and continuity of cultural knowledge transmission.
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