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Global synthesis reveals that ecosystem degradation poses the primary threat to the world's medicinal animals

Monica L. Short, Department of Geography, University of Victoria
Chris T. Darimont, Department of Geography, University of Victoria; Raincoast Conservation Foundation


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Although overexploitation threatens some high-profile medicinal animals, little is known about global patterns in the use of—and threats to—medicinal animals. We examined data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List and a literature survey to identify a diverse catalog of medicinal animals (n = 1660). Most known species (~77%) are chordates in terrestrial habitats (~72%). Intensity of use generally maps to biodiverse regions with low human development. Most (~63%) species are decreasing, and primary threats relate to habitat loss and modification. Many (~62%) species have multiple uses, which is associated with higher endangerment and threats from exploitation than species used solely for medicine. Spiritual use medicinal species have a higher proportion of “at-risk” species (~19%) than those used otherwise (~6%), potentially owing to associations among rarity, perceived efficacy, and demand. These findings can inform spatially and taxonomically explicit biocultural strategies to safeguard not only biodiversity but also important human–animal relationships.

Key words

animals; conservation; endangerment; ethnomedicine; ethnozoology; global; medicine; threats

Copyright © 2021 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