Potential ‘hotspots’ across Australia for finding plants used in Aboriginal traditional medicine have been identified through a partnership between an international biodiversity information facility and Macquarie University.
Posted 12 September 2011, by Staff, ECOS Magazine (Csiro Publishing), ecosmagazine.com
The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is an international, government-funded initiative focused on making biodiversity data freely available for scientific research and sustainable development. The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) hosts the GBIF national node in Australia.
The modelling study brings together the ALA and the Customary Medicinal Knowledgebase (CMKb) research group, based at Macquarie University. Researchers used data accessed through the GBIF portal and Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) along with the latest modelling technology to identify suitable ecological niches for 414 plant species of medicinal importance.
The research, led by Macquarie University’s Professor Shoba Ranganathan, with Dr Jitendra Gaikwad as the first author, was recently published in the journal Ecological Modelling. The main outcome was a map of potential ‘bio-cultural diversity’ hotspots – areas suitable for the occurrence of multiple species known to be used in traditional medicine.
‘Many plants brought into Australia by early settlers have become an integral part of Aboriginal traditional knowledge. Global data on these plants is essential, and we obtained this from the GBIF,’ said Dr Gaikwad.
‘For Aboriginal people, their connection with the land is a matter of survival, emotion and culture – it is not just a piece of land for them.
‘So let’s say a mining industry identifies an area that is inhabited by an Aboriginal community. This methodology allows us to evaluate the cultural value of the land.
‘We have used medicinal value, but we can use other socio-economic, traditional knowledge and biodiversity conservation aspects as well.
‘The next logical step would be to select an area and validate the distribution of the species and the cultural value in the field. But before that, we need to have active participation of Aboriginal communities to validate the results.’
According to the Director of ALA, Donald Hobern, study represents ‘an exciting and novel use of multiple heterogeneous datasets to explore the linkages between phylogeny – the study of the evolutionary relatedness of life forms – ecology, chemistry and human use of biodiversity’.