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Nontimber forest products as ecological and biocultural keystone species

Charlie M. Shackleton, Rhodes University
Tamara Ticktin, Department of Botany, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Anthony B. Cunningham, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Murdoch University, Australia


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Nontimber forests products (NTFPs) are the mainstay of rural livelihoods and local economies the world over. As such they are of interest to a wide disciplinary range of researchers and development and government agencies seeking to promote livelihoods, incomes, and ecologically sustainable practices. With the attention on the various human uses of NTFPs, their role and networks in the broader biological communities in which they are located are frequently overlooked. Harvesting of many NTFPs has effects not only at the organism and population scales, but also on co-occurring species, some of which may also be NTFPs. Thus, reduction or loss of one NTFP population or species in a specific area may have cascade effects on other NTFP species, including those used for cultural purposes. We illustrate the little appreciated importance of NTFPs in broader ecological and social systems by assessing and illustrating the importance of NTFP species as ecological or biocultural keystones in providing regulating and supporting ecological services to other species and cultural services to people. We present a number of examples where NTFP species act as keystones in ecological and cultural systems, including food, pollination and dispersal, animal health, nutrients, shelter and protection, and cultural symbolism, most of which have not been considered by NTFP researchers and practitioners. From these examples we distill six propositions regarding NTFPs and discuss the value of recognizing some NTFPs as biocultural keystones to acknowledge and highlight their roles at broader scales.

Key words

culture; food; health; keystone species; nutrients; pollination; shelter

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087