This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2008. The fellowship supports a research and training plan entitled "A quantitative ethnobotanical approach to determining the movement of plants between Southeast Asian and Hawaii" for Nathaniel Bletter. The host institution for this research is University of Hawaii-Manoa and the sponsoring scientist is Dr. Will McClatchey.
How does the diversity of plant uses change as immigrant communities spend more time away from their home country, in proximity to and exchanging plant knowledge with many neighboring ethnic communities? This question is especially important in Southeast Asia with its patterns of immigration and emigration, as this area is the origin of much of the world's important economic flora, such as rice, coconuts, bananas, tea, and ginseng. In conjunction with the University of Hawai'i and Thailand's Khon Kaen University's "Taxonomy and Ethnobotany in the Lao People's Democratic Republic" project, this research seeks to answer this question using a quantitative synthesis of the relationships of the plant species, their uses, and the cultures that employ plants in order to understand the patterns of transfer of plant uses by employing field interviews with Thai and Lao speakers in Hawai'i, Thailand and Laos and plant collections in these areas. Plant data are being analyzed using "ethnobotanical quantum" units and plant use data using phylogenetic "relational efficacy." Broader impacts include sharing and preserving this valuable plant knowledge within the communities via books and training. The hypothesis being tested is that, over time in a new country, immigrant plant use diversity initially decreases, but eventually increases with exposure to other cultures, and that newly selected plants are phylogenetically similar to the pre-immigration set of plants. Through a combination of quantum and relational efficacy ethnobotanical theory another hypothesis being modeled predicts which plants people will bring with them when they move from one area to another. Quantum ethnobotany predicts that the transferred plants are those that best help the most people survive and relational efficacy predicts that the transferred plants are those that have many closely related useful species. Through these various computational methods spanning the field of biology, it is being observed how different cultures communicate their most valued plant knowledge, leading to a broader impact of being able to understand and possibly prevent introductions of new invasive plant species while being better able to find the origins of important crops for breeding of pest-resistant varieties.
Training objectives include new techniques and skills of quantitative and theoretical ethnobotany, phytochemistry, geographic information systems, research ethics, and field methods.