Reflections on the theoretical advance in ethnobiology: are we pointing to the wrong direction?




Ethnobotany, Theoretical contributions, Research agendas


Over the past 30 years, a series of ethnobiological studies has presented and discussed theoretical scenarios, new hypotheses to be tested, as well as relevant research questions based on dialogue with different disciplines. However, the production of these articles of important theoretical relevance has not accompanied an increase in the number of studies that contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge in ethnobiology. In this manuscript, I discuss some of the main reasons that can lead to the large number of works that reflect little on their theoretical contributions, with the aim to minimize these problems, so we can favor the progress in the area for the coming years.


Albuquerque UP (2009) Quantitative ethnobotany or quantification in ethnobotany? Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7:1-3. DOI:

Albuquerque UP (2013) How to improve the quality of scientific publications in ethnobiology. Ethnobiology and Conservation 2:4.

Albuquerque UP, Ferreira Júnior WS (2017) What do we study in evolutionary ethnobiology? Defining the theoretical basis for a research program. Evolutionary Biology 44:206-215. DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Hanazaki N (2009) Five problems in current ethnobotanical research - and some suggestions for strengthening them. Human Ecology 37:653-661. DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Hurrell JA (2010) Ethnobotany: one concept and many interpretations. In: Albuquerque UP, Hanazaki N (eds) Recent developments and case studies in ethnobotany. SBEE, NUPEEA, Recife, pp. 87-99.

Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM (2012) Systematic reviews and meta-analysis applied to ethnobiological research. Ethnobiology and Conservation 1:6.

Albuquerque UP, Cunha LVFC, Lucena RFP, Alves RRN (2014) Methods and techniques in ethnobiology and ethnoecology. Springer, New York. DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Ferreira Júnior WS, Silva TC, Silva RRV, Gonçalves-Souza T (2019a) Social-Ecological Theory of Maximization: basic concepts and two initial models. Biological Theory 14:73-85. DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Lucena RFP, Cunha LVFC, Alves RRN (2019b) Methods and techniques in ethnobiology and ethnoecology. 2 ed. Springer, New York. DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Nascimento ALB, Soldati GT, Feitosa IS, Campos JLA, Hurrell JA, Hanazaki N, Medeiros PM, Silva RRV, Ludwinsky RH, Ferreira Júnior WS, Reyes-García V (2019c) Ten important questions/issues for ethnobotanical research. Acta Botanica Brasilica 33:376-385. DOI:

Bennett BC, Prance GT (2000) Introduced plants in the indigenous pharmacopoeia of northern South America. Economic Botany 54:90-102. DOI:

Díaz-Reviriego I, Fernández-Llamazares A, Salpeteur M, Howard PL, Reyes-García V (2016) Gendered medicinal plant knowledge contributions to adaptive capacity and health sovereignty in Amazonia. Ambio 45:S263-S275. DOI:

Ferreira Júnior WS, Nascimento ALB, Ramos MA, Medeiros PM, Soldati GT, Santoro FR, Reyes-García V, Albuquerque UP (2015) Resilience and adaptation in social-ecological systems. In: Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Casas A (eds) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer, New York, pp. 105-119. DOI:

Gaoue OG, Coe MA, Bond M, Hart G, Seyler BC, McMillen H (2017) Theories and major hypotheses in ethnobotany. Economic Botany 71:269-287. DOI:

Gonçalves-Souza, T, Diniz-Filho JAF, Albuquerque UP (2020) Why scientific information does not necessarily impact the decisions by human society. Ethnobiology and Conservation 9:11. DOI:

Gutiérrez-Santillán TV, Valenzuela-Galván D, Albuquerque UP, Reyes-Zepeda F, Arellano-Méndez LU, Mora-Olivo A, Vázquez L (2019) The spatiotemporal scale of ethnobiology: a conceptual contribution in the application of meta-analysis and the development of the macro-ethnobiological approach. In: Albuquerque UP, Lucena RFP, Cunha LVFC, DOI:

Alves RRN (eds) Methods and techniques in ethnobiology and ethnoecology. Springer, New York, pp 127-147.

Johns T (1990) With bitter herbs they shall eat it: chemical ecology and the origins of human diet and medicine. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Ladio AH, Lozada M (2008) Medicinal plant knowledge in rural communities of North-Western Patagonia, Argentina. A resilient practice beyond acculturation. In: Albuquerque UP, Ramos MA (eds) Current topics in ethnobotany. Research Signpost, India, pp 39-53.

Ludwig D, El-Hani CN (2020) Philisophy of ethnobiology: understanding knowledge integration and its limitations. Journal of Ethnobiology 40:3-20. DOI:

McClatchey WC (2005) Exorcizing misleading terms from ethnobotany. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 3:1-4. DOI:

McClatchey W (2006) Improving the quality of international ethnobotany research and publications. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 4:1-9. DOI:

Ming LC, Hidalgo AF (2020) Métodos quantitativos não são a salvação de toda a lavoura etnobotânica: o que diz Javier Caballero. Ethnoscientia 5. DOI:

Phillips O, Gentry AH (1993a) The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: II. Additional hypothesis testing in quantitative ethnobotany. Economic Botany 47:33-43. DOI:

Phillips O, Gentry AH (1993b) The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: I. Statistical hypotheses tests with a new quantitative technique. Economic Botany 47:15-32. DOI:

Ramos MA, Melo JG, Albuquerque UP (2012) Citation behavior in popular scientific papers: what is behind obscure citations? The case of ethnobotany. Scientometrics 92:711-719. DOI:

Reyes-García V, Martí N, McDade T, Tanner S, Vadez V (2007) Concepts and methods in studies measuring individual ethnonobtanical knowledge. Journal of Ethnobiology 27:182-203. DOI:[182:CAMISM]2.0.CO;2

Reyes-García V (2010) The relevance of traditional knowledge systems for ethnopharmacological research: theoretical and methodological contributions. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 6:32. DOI:

Reyes-García V, Aceituno-Mata L, Calvet-Mir L, Garnatje T, Gómez-Baggethun E, Lastra JJ, Ontillera R, Parada M, Rigat M, Vallès J, Vila S, Pardo-de-Santayana M (2014) Resilience of traditional knowledge systems: The case of agricultural knowledge in home gardens of the Iberian Peninsula. Global Environmental Change 24:223-231. DOI:

Reyes-García V, Balbo AL, Gómez-Baggethun E, Gueze M, Mesoudi A, Richerson PJ, Rubio-Campillo X, Ruiz-Mallén I, Shennan S (2016) Multilevel processes and cultural adaptation: examples from past and present small-scale societies. Ecology and Society 21:2. DOI:

Sõukand R, Stryamets N, Fontefrancesco MF, Pieroni A (2020) The importance of tolerating interstices: Babushka markets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and their role in maintaining local food knowledge and diversity. Heliyon 6:e03222. DOI:

Torres-Avilez W, Nascimento ALB, Santoro FR, Medeiros PM, Albuquerque UP (2019) Gender and its role in the resilience of local medical systems of the Fulni-ô people in NE Brazil: Effects on structure and functionality. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2019:8313790. DOI:

Volpato G, Fontefrancesco MF, Gruppuso P, Zocchi DM, Pieroni A (2020) Baby pangolins on my plate: possible lessons to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 16:19. DOI:




How to Cite

Ferreira Júnior, W. S. (2020). Reflections on the theoretical advance in ethnobiology: are we pointing to the wrong direction?. Ethnobiology and Conservation, 9.




Most read articles by the same author(s)