An ethnobiological exploration of sensory and ecological aspects of tree identification among the Aguaruna Jivaro
Jernigan, Kevin Arthur
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A year-long ethnobotanical study was carried out in several communities on the Nieva River, in the Peruvian Amazon, to determine how the Aguaruna Jívaro identify trees of their local environment. Eight key informants provided freelists of tree names and, in follow-up interviews, explained how they identify 63 of the named trees chosen for detailed study. Voucher specimens were collected for the 63 taxa. This study made use of the Aguaruna concept of kumpají, glossed as companion, which denotes species thought to be morphologically similar but not subsumed under a shared name. Questions designed to elicit identification methods included asking what distinguishes each tree from other trees informants consider to be its companions. Analysis of eight key informants’ descriptions of the 63 study trees (504 total descriptions) suggests that certain characters are more significant than others for making taxonomic distinctions between trees. Such characters include: fruit color, shape size and dehiscence; outside trunk color and texture; leaf shape, size and color; tree height, trunk thickness and straightness of the trunk; flower color; quantity of branches; bark odor; and sap color. Informants’ comparisons of trees considered to be companions provide additional clues to understanding which characters are most important for differentiating between the folk taxa chosen for this study. Some characters were found to be particularly important for making broad taxonomic judgments (i.e. explaining what features the members of companion sets have in common), while other characters appear to be more important for making finer scale taxonomic judgments (i.e. explaining what features can be used to distinguish between the members of each companion set). This research also involved observing how informants identified trees in twenty-five 10 m Gentry (1982) plots in a single patch of primary forest. The plots contained a total of 156 trees of 10cm or greater diameter at breast height. Eight key informants went through the plots individually and identified the trees. Informants’ names for each tree and actions taken during each identification were recorded.