Evolutionary ethnobiology


  • Washington Soares Ferreira Júnior
  • Patricia Muniz Medeiros
  • Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque




Human ecology, Ethnoecology, Biological evolution, Cultural evolution, Evolutionary psychology


Ethnobiology is a discipline that deals with understanding the relationship between human beings and biota. The strong interdisciplinary component of ethnobiology allows it to interact with different fields of knowledge. The evolutionary approach in ethnobiology is not completely absent, however it lacks systematization, which has been recently proposed. From this proposal, the evolutionary ethnobiology emerged. This approach studies the relations between human groups and biota from theoretical scenarios of ecology and evolution. Here we present the evolutionary ethnobiology, its key concepts, the theoretical scenarios with which it dialogues.


Albuquerque UP, Alves AGC (2016) What is ethnobiology? In: Albuquerque UP, Alves RRN (eds) Introduction to ethnobiology. Springer, New York, pp. 3-7.

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.

Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM (2013) What is evolutionary ethnobiology? Ethnobiology and Conservation 2:6.

Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Casas A (2015a) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer, New York.

Albuquerque UP, Ferreira Júnior WS, Santoro FR, Torres-Avilez WM, Sousa Júnior JR (2015b) Niche construction theory and ethnobiology. In: Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Casas A (eds) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer, New York, pp. 73-87.

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

Albuquerque UP, Nascimento ALB, Chaves LS, Feitosa IS, Moura JMB, Gonçalves PHS, Silva RH, Silva TC, Ferreira Júnior WS (2019b) A brief introduction to Niche Construction Theory for ecologists and conservationists. Biological Conservation 237:50-56.

Alves RRN, Borges AKM, Barboza RRD, Souto WMS, Gonçalves-Souza T, Provete DB, Albuquerque UP (2021) A global analysis of ecological and evolutionary drivers of the use of wild mammals in traditional medicine. Mammal Review 51:293-306.

Barnes ML, Bodin O, McClanahan TR, Kittinger JN, Hoey AS, Gaoue OG, Graham NAJ (2019) Social-ecological alignment and ecological conditions in coral reefs. Nature Communications 10:2039.

Barrett B (1995) Herbal knowledge on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast: consensus within diversity. Journal of Community Health 20:403-421.

Berkes F, Colding J, Folke C (2000) Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications 10:1251-1262.

Casas A, Parra F, Rangel-Landa S, Rodríguez SG (2015) Evolutionary ecology and ethnobiology. In: Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Casas A (eds) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer, New York, pp. 37-57.

Castro L, Toro MA (2010) Cultural Transmission and Evolution. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022858

Cuni-Sanchez A, Omeny P, Pfeifer M, Olaka L, Mamo MB, Marchant R, Burgess ND (2018) Climate change and pastoralists: perceptions and adaptation in montane Kenya. Climate and Development 11:513-524

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.

Ferreira Júnior WS, Ladio AH, Albuquerque UP (2011) Resilience and adaptation in the use of medicinal plants with suspected anti-inflammatory activity in the Brazilian Northeast. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 138:238-252.

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

Ferreira Júnior WS, Medeiros PM, Albuquerque UP (2019) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. In: Els. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester.

Gama ADS, Paula M, Silva RRV, Ferreira Júnior WS, Medeiros PM (2018) Exotic species as models to understand biocultural adaptation: Challenges to mainstream views of human-nature relations. PLoS ONE 13:e0196091.

Hart G, Gaoue OG, de la Torre L, Navarrete H, Muriel P, Macía MJ, Balslev H, León-Yánez S, Jorgensen P, Duffy DC (2017) Availability, diversification and versatility explain human selection of introduced plants in Ecuadorian traditional medicine. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184369.

Henrich J, Broesch J (2011) On the nature of cultural transmission networks: evidence from Fijian villages for adaptive learning biases. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B 366:1139-1148.

Hurrell JA, Albuquerque UP (2012) Is Ethnobotany an Ecological science? Steps towards a complex ethnobotany. Ethnobiology and Conservation 1:4.

Kuruppu N, Liverman D (2011) Mental preparation for climate adaptation: The role of cognition and culture in enhancing adaptive capacity of water management in Kiribati. Global Environmental Change 21:657-669.

Ladio A, Lozada M, Weigandt M (2007) Comparison of traditional wild plant knowledge between aboriginal communities inhabiting arid and forest environments in Patagonia, Argentina. Journal of Arid Environments 69:695-715.

Leonti M, Staub PO, Cabras S, Castellanos ME, Casu L (2015) From cumulative cultural transmission to evidence-based medicine: evolution of medicinal plant knowledge in Southern Italy. Frontiers in Pharmacology 6:207.

Levis C, Costa FRC, Bongers F, Peña-Claros M, Clement CR, Junqueira AB et al. (2017). Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition. Science 355:925-931.

Lins Neto EMF, Albuquerque UP (2018) Theories of Niche Construction and Optimum Foraging: weaknesses and virtues in understanding the early stages of domestication. Ethnobiology and Conservation 7:1-5.

Linstädter A, Kemmerling B, Baumann G, Kirscht H (2013) The importance of being reliable – Local ecological knowledge and management of forage plants in a dryland pastoral system (Morocco). Journal of Arid Environments 95:30-40.

Medeiros PM, Soldati GT, Alencar NL (2012) The use of medicinal plants by migrant people: adaptation, maintenance, and replacement. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012:807452.

Medeiros PM (2013) Why is change feared? Exotic species in local pharmacopoeias. Ethnobiology and Conservation 2:3.

Menendez-Baceta G, Aceituno-Mata L, Reyes-García V, Tardío J, Salpeteur M, Pardo-de-Santayana M (2015) The importance of cultural factors in the distribution of medicinal plant knowledge: A case study in four Basque regions. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 161:116-127.

Molares S, Ladio A (2009) Chemosensory perception and medicinal pants for digestive ailments in a Mapuche community in NW Patagonia, Argentina. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 123:397-406.

Moura JMB, Silva RH, Ferreira Júnior WS, Silva TC, Albuquerque UP (2020) Theoretical insights of Evolutionary Psychology: new opportunities for studies in Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Evolutionary Biology 47:6-17.

Moura JMB, Silva RH, Ferreira Júnior WS, Silva TC, Albuquerque UP (2021) Memory for medicinal plants remains in ancient and modern environments suggesting an evolved adaptedness. PLoS ONE 16:e0258986.

Nascimento ALB, Lozano A, Melo JG, Alves RRN, Albuquerque UP (2016) Functional aspects of the use of plants and animals in local medical systems and their implications for resilience. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 194:348-357.

Reyes-García V, Guèze M, Díaz-Reviriego I, Duda R, Fernández-Llamazares A, Gallois S, Napitupulu L, Orta-Martínez M, Pyhälä A (2016) The adaptive nature of culture. A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of local environmental knowledge in three indigenous societies. Current Anthropology 57:761-784.

Santoro FR, Ferreira Júnior WS, Araújo TAS, Ladio AH, Albuquerque UP (2015) Does plant species richness guarantee the resilience of local medical systems? A perspective from utilitarian redundancy. PLoS ONE 10:e0119826.

Santoro FR, Santos GC, Ferreira Júnior WS, Chaves LS, Araújo TAS, Nascimento ALB, Sobral A, Silva JS, Campos JLA, Albuquerque UP (2017) Testing an ethnobiological evolutionary hypothesis on plant-based remedies to treat malaria in Africa. Evolutionary Biology 44:216-226.

Santoro FR, Nascimento ALB, Soldati GT, Ferreira Júnior WS, Albuquerque UP (2018) Evolutionary ethnobiology and cultural evolution: opportunities for research and dialog. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 14:1.

Santoro FR, Chaves LS, Albuquerque UP (2020) Evolutionary aspects that guide the cultural transmission pathways in a local medical system in Northeast Brazil. Heliyon 6:e04109.

Saslis-Lagoudakis CH, Savolainen V, Williamson EM, Forest F, Wagstaff SJ, Baral SR, Watson MF, Pendry CA, Hawkins JA (2012). Phylogenies reveal predictive power of traditional medicine in bioprospecting. PNAS 109:15835-15840.

Silva RH, Ferreira Júnior WS, Moura JMB, Albuquerque UP (2020) The link between adaptive memory and cultural attraction: new insights for evolutionary ethnobiology. Evolutionary Biology 47:273-284.

Steward JR, Stringer CB (2012) Human evolution out of Africa: the role of refugia and climate change. Science 335:1317.

Soldati GT, Hanazaki N, Crivos M, Albuquerque UP (2015) Does environmental instability favor the production and horizontal transmission of knowledge regarding medicinal plants? A study in Southeast Brazil. PLoS ONE 10:e0126389.

Sullivan AP, Bird DW, Perry GH (2017) Human behavior as a long-term ecological driver of non-human evolution. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:65.

Trauth MH, Maslin MA, Deino AL, Junginger A, Lesoloyia M, Odada EO, Olago, DO, Olaka LA, Strecker MR, Tiedemann R (2010) Human evolution in a variable environment: the amplifier lakes of Eastern Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 29:2981-2988.




How to Cite

Ferreira Júnior, W. S., Medeiros, P. M., & Albuquerque, U. P. (2022). Evolutionary ethnobiology. Ethnobiology and Conservation, 11. https://doi.org/10.15451/ec2022-04-11.10-1-8




Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 3 > >>