1. LON-CAPA Logo
  2. Help
  3. Log In

Resources About Us What's New Notice Board Opinion FAQ Archive Feedback Main
Discussion Papers
Lessons Learned
Methods manuals
Regional Activities
Research Techniques
Working Papers
Liwayway, an Amba Aeta woman, examining the sap of a medicinal tree at the Pamulaklakin Stream Resort, Subic Bay, Philippines.
©Gary J. Martin

Frequently Asked Questions
about Ethnobotany, Conservation and Development

Ever since People and Plants began over six years ago, we have received many requests from aspiring ethnobotanists about where to find information on career opportunities, academic courses and degrees in ethnobotany, ways to gain field experience, and many other subjects. Although inspired by this interest in our field, we have found it challenging to answer so many enquires individually. In response, we created the People and Plants Handbook in 1996 to provide information on applied ethnobotany to a broad range of colleagues.With the launching of People and Plants Online in 1998, we hope to address these needs in an even more dynamic way, linking our web site to hundreds of others, opening the door to the many resources about ethnobotany, conservation and development available on the Internet.

 The following questions summarize some of the requests we have received from colleagues from around the world. After each enquiry, we provide a short response and direct you to other pages of People and Plants Online and to other websites that can provide detailed answers. If you still have a burning question after viewing the following information and consulting the People and Plants Handbook, drop a line to the People and Plants Online web manager. We will do our best to satisfy your curiosity. If you find our answer incomplete, please send us additional information that we can post on the FAQ page. 

Which universities offer undergraduate and graduate studies in ethnobotany? 

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of ethnobotany courses offered not only in the United States, but also around the world. Trish Flaster has complied a list of universities – especially in the United States and United Kingdom – that offer undergraduate courses, master’s degrees and Ph.D. programs. Although there has been some discussion about putting the list on the Society for Economic Botany Website, for the time being you may access it only by becoming a member of SEB. If you are interested in ethnobotany, you should join SEB – it is easy, inexpensive and will keep you up-to-date on progress in ethnobotanical methodology, research and teaching. 

One of the newest degree programs is a M.Sc. in Ethnobotany at the University of Kent at Canterbury, which is offered for the first time in October 1998. If you know of other universities that advertise their offerings in ethnobotany on the Web, please send a note to the Website manager with the full URL. We will create a link to these institutions from the People and Plants Online FAQ page. 



How can I gain field experience to complement my academic studies? 

Although the People and Plant Initiative does not act as an intermediary for young colleagues who wish to gain field experience, there are many institutions throughout the world that are willing to take on qualified volunteers for short-term research projects. Some larger research programs may even have funds to support students to work with experienced researchers in the field. 

We suggest that you identify the region where you wish to work, and consult the various issues of the People and Plants Handbook for organizations that support ethnobotanical research there. Prepare a one-page curriculum vita and a summary proposal of what you are interested in doing. Be sure to indicate what amount of personal or research funds that you are able to commit. It pays to start contacting people well before you wish to leave, because many organizations have work plans that are finalized months or years in advance. 

If you do have your own funds, you may wish to contact outfits such as Earthwatch Expeditions and University Research Expeditions Program, which arrange field experiences for adults of all ages who wish to support ongoing research with both funds and volunteer service. 

Earthwatch is an international nonprofit organization that supports scientific field research worldwide. It offers its members the opportunity to work side by side with distinguished field scientists in seven focused areas of sponsored research: World Oceans; World Forests; Biodiversity; Cultural Diversity; Learning from the Past; Monitoring Global Change; and World Health. In 1997, the organization sponsored 140 projects in 51 countries and 21 states in the United States. Projects are divided into roughly one to three-week-long terms to enable members of the public to participate, with successive teams over the research duration. Since its founding in 1972, Earthwatch has mobilized over 2,083 projects in 118 countries and 36 states. More than 50,000 volunteers have contributed over $34 million and 5,635,300 hours of field research. 

The University Research Expeditions Program (UREP) was established on the University of California, Berkeley campus to help provide funds for field research in the natural and social sciences while simultaneously offering students, staff, and members of the general public the opportunity of joining domestic and foreign field research projects sponsored by the University. Participants become short-term members of a field research team and assist in wildlife habitat studies, botanical collecting expeditions, ethnographic field work, ecological surveys, fossil excavations, historical studies and other types of field research. No previous academic or field experience is necessary to participate; instruction in field techniques is provided after participants arrive at their research site. Participants are selected for their interests, skills, experience, and willingness to work and learn. A tax-deductible donation to the University is required to help subsidize the research costs of the projects. Partial scholarships are available to students. Past UREP projects have included animal behavior observations in Kenya, Argentina, and Australia; archaeological excavations in Italy, China, California, and Latin America; a museum collecting expedition to the Rendille, research on a nomadic tribe in Northern Kenya; an anthropological study of Carnival in Brazil; preparation of an archaeological map of the Valley of the Kings, Egypt; marine studies in Hawaii, Jamaica, Mexico, and Fiji; and ecological studies in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, New Caledonia, and Surinam. 

Please let the People and Plants Online Website manager know of any other organizations that sponsor field research by arranging for the participation of volunteers who are willing to cover their own expenses, while contributing to research. 

In time, you may wish to consult the “positions offered” section of the People and Plants Online notice board to see if there are any advertisements of short term research opportunities. In addition, feel free to post your request to take part in field research in the “positions requested” section. We hope that the notice board will become the host for a dynamic exchange between ethnobotanists around the world. 

If you are in a degree program, you will have many opportunities to gain field experience while you carry out your studies. For example, the Organization for Tropical Studies is a program founded over thirty years ago to provide a graduate education that is creative and scientifically sound. The organization is committed to making training in tropical biology part of the experience of all professional biologists. OTS has added courses in Spanish and Portuguese for Latin Americans, in conservation biology for students interested in applied issues, in environmental policy for decisionmakers, and in natural history for elderhostel groups and the general public. More recently, an undergraduate semester abroad program in tropical biology and Spanish language and culture attracts students from small liberal arts colleges and major universities throughout the United States. 

Even if you are not enrolled at a university, don’t rule out the possibility of taking a field course related to ethnobotany. You will eventually find various options listed under “Field Courses” on the People and Plants Online notice board. 



If I do pursue an undergraduate, master’s or doctoral degree in ethnobotany, am I likely to find a position in ethnobotany? 

It is rare to find job announcements that specifically request an ethnobotanist, but it does happen from time to time. These positions are typically advertised in specialized journals, such as those discussed below. Ethnobotanists often find themselves applying for work as botanists, anthropologists, linguists and ecologists in posts and projects that have a focus on the relationships between people, plants and animals. Check the People and Plants Online board, under “positions offered” for details of specific opportunities that have come to our attention. 

The European Tropical Forest Research Network (ETFRN) advertises job openings in its newsletter, which is available online. ETFRN aims to contribute to the international efforts towards wise, sustainable management and protection of subtropical and tropical forests and woodlands. For this purpose, ETFRN creates different fora for information exchange and discussions; the network also gathers data and publishes information on European institutes and projects involved in tropical and subtropical forest research. ETFRN develops and maintains contacts with other regional networks and international organizations involved in tropical forest research, which makes it a particularly good source of information on work opportunities. 

Please let us know of other organizations or publications that offer information on job opportunities in ethnobotany, conservation and community development. 



Which scientific journals and publishing houses focus on ethnobotany? 

Among the journals that ethnobotanists consult regularly are Economic Botany, Journal of Ethnobiology, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Human Ecology, Conservation Biology and others. 

Some university presses in the United States are known for their excellent selection of titles on plants and people, including the University of Arizona Press (which focuses scholarly books, including many on the western United States), Columbia University Press and the University of Washington Press. 

Because ethnobotany is a multidisciplinary field, you will find ethnobotanical contributions in many other journals and in the catalogs of numerous publishers. Consult the Multimedia section of the People and Plants Handbook for sources that we have found particularly useful. 

What are the journals and publisher’s catalogs that you consult? Do you know of sources of ethnobotanical books in languages other than English? We look forward to your suggestions. 



Are there foundations that have a special interest in ethnobotany? 

We know of no foundation that is dedicated exclusively to supporting work on the relationship between plants and people. However, there are many foundations that have supported at least one ethnobotanical project in recent years. Each issue of the People and Plants Handbook lists foundations that have shown a particular tendency to fund projects on traditional ecological knowledge, resource management or biodiversity conservation. 

Although government foundations have tended to shy away from funding ethnobotany and other interdisciplinary projects, this is now beginning to change. The United States National Science Foundation (NSF), for instance, has supported numerous ethnobiological research programs. The NSF is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest over $3.3 billion per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering. 

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has a program on ecosystem conservation that has provided support for a large number a projects on conservation and community development, some of them related to ethnobotany. The overall purpose of the program is to help conserve renewable natural resources in selected ecosystems where biodiversity is threatened and to promote the sustainable use of those resources. 

The Foundation focuses its ecosystems conservation work in a small number of tropical bio-geographic zones in Asia, Latin America and Africa. These zones are chosen for their richness of species diversity, number of unique species, and the level of threat within each zone. In addition, the Foundation supports ecosystem conservation work in tropical areas of the United States. Within the bio-geographic zones, work in one or more of the following three priority activities is given special consideration: (1) conservation science and training; (2) environmental law and policy; and (3) conservation and sustainable economic development 

Some organizations provide information on sources of support for projects in certain disciplines or geographical areas. SIMBIOTA, for example, is a volunteer organization run by a group of graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. SIMBIOTA's goal is to assist Latin American and Caribbean field biologists and conservationists (professional, amateur or student) in gaining funds for their own projects in the Neotropics. Founded in 1989, SIMBIOTA is a catalyst for stronger cooperation and support between biologists and conservationists in the Americas. It can provide a List of Potential Funding Sources (in English or Spanish) and give advice on draft proposals. 

Other organizations provide support in forms other than grants and fellowships. The British Airways Assisting Conservation (BAAC) programme, for example, provides free travel on British Airways routes for qualified people working on conservation projects. 



Where can I find videos that focus on issues such as ethnobotany, biodiversity conservation, cultural continuity, resource management and community development? 

Thanks to the efforts of Tony Cunningham, the WWF People and Plants coordinator for Africa, the People and Plants Initiative offers videos on woodcarving in Kenya and community-based resource management around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. In the future, we hope to produce additional titles. Check “videos” on our Resources page for details. 

For our training courses and workshops, we have tapped into the vast video resources of two excellent organizations, one in the United States and the other in the United Kingdom. These organizations not only distribute videos, but also encourage the efforts of video producers who focus on environmental and social issues. 

In the United States, The Video Project – founded in 1983 – has programs for all ages, including Oscar and Emmy award-winners from over 270 independent filmmakers worldwide. It is the exclusive or primary distributor for most of the programs in its collection. In addition, it is the distributor for the productions of United States national environmental organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation, Marine Mammal Fund, League of Women Voters, Union of Concerned Scientist and Zero Population Growth, among others. It distributes over 10,000 programs every year to a diverse and growing network that includes thousands of schools, colleges, community groups, public libraries, churches, businesses, government agencies and individuals. 

Based in the UK but with a strong global focus, the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to act as a catalyst for the production and distribution of films on environment, development, health and human rights issues. TVE's goal is to use broadcast television and other audio-visual resources to raise environmental awareness worldwide. Since TVE's launch in 1984, billions of people around the world have watched its programs, contributing to a better understanding of the complex links between major issues like resource depletion, social inequality, poverty, health and environmental degradation. 



| ResourcesAbout Us  |  What's New  |  Notice Board Opinion  |  FAQ   |  Archive  |  Feedback  |  Main  |
WWF Logo Unesco Logo Kew Logo
People and Plants Online website manager: Gary J. Martin,B.P. 262, 40008 Marrakech-Medina, Marrakech, Morocco;
Fax +212.4.329544, e-mail
Website design & maintenance by
RAM Production Sdn. Bhd.
People and Plants Online © WWF, UNESCO and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Links to other websites cited in People and Plants Online do not imply endorsement of these sites or their content
by the People and Plants Initiative or its sponsoring institutions