The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their research beyond their discipline. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question: "How do the results of your work apply across disciplines and to the public?" Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Dr. Hart's winning summary, and learn more about his research.
Medicinal Plants for Sustainable Livelihoods and Biodiversity Conservation
Wild medicinal plants are collected around the world by rural people who incorporate them into their own health care or sell them to supplement local incomes. But even as this practice continues, communities that collect wild plants often display uneven knowledge of their uses, marketing techniques, and sustainable harvest requirements. This knowledge gap has negative outcomes. Traditional knowledge can be lost if it is not valued and shared. Local economies are depressed as middlemen garner most of the profits. Wild plant populations may be overharvested and endangered. In this paper, my coauthors and I discuss our efforts to address these problems in Swat, a mountainous area of Northern Pakistan which is famed for natural richness but economically challenged by remoteness and inaccessibility. First, we worked with local communities to document the most important medicinal plants – species such as the highly valued and critically endangered Saussurea costus. Then, we conducted a range of interventions to foster economic and environmental sustainability. These included local awareness campaigns, capacity-building trainings, community mobilization for conservation of threatened species, and exposure visits to link collectors with buyers. Although the impacts are only beginning, our activities have given 200+ local collectors in Swat the resources to sustainably gather medicinal plants, authenticate them to potential buyers with botanical identifications, process them using methods that ensure maximum quality and income, and work together to share and advance their own knowledge. We hope Swat can be a global exemplar of how medicinal plant capacity-building can improve livelihoods and support conservation.
This summary is in reference to:
Promoting Sustainable Use of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants for Livelihood Improvement and Biodiversity Conservation under Global Climate Change, through Capacity Building in the Himalaya Mountains, Swat District, Pakistan. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 102(2):309-315. 2017. Hassan Sher, Rainer W. Bussmann, and Robbie Hart.
Funding for this research was proivded by the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program.
Dr. Robbie Hart
Nominated by theMissouri Botanical Garden
Dr. Robbie Hart has been interested in the biological and cultural diversities of the Himalaya since his undergraduate linguistics research in Nepal. His undergraduate thesis at Swarthmore College explored the ways that small local indigenous language encapsulate knowledge about the environments where they are spoken. He pursued this interest from a natural science perspective while earning his Ph.D. in biology from University of Missouri-St. Louis. In his dissertation research, Dr. Hart integrated ecological and ethnobotanical methods to understand climate change effects in Rhododendron, an iconic genus of Himalayan plants.
Now, as an Assistant Curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Dr. Hart designs and manages programs in high elevation plant ecology, climate change, and ethnobotany. He focuses on the greater Himalayan region, where he helps to manage an international network of permanent plots. In collaboration with colleagues at local institutions, Dr. Hart monitors the dynamics of and connections between vegetation, climate and ethnobotanical practice.
What drew you to your current research field?
When I was an undergraduate, I studied how small, local languages can package knowledge about the environment. I became interested more broadly in the study of local ecological knowledge (sometimes called traditional ecological knowledge), which includes knowledge about wild plants that can be harvested as foods and medicines, as well as where and when natural events occur, how plants and animals interact, and many other aspects of the natural world. When I began my Ph.D. in ecology, I knew that I wanted to incorporate this theme.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
I have relied on a series of influential mentors, including my undergraduate advisor at Swarthmore College, the linguist Dr. David Harrison, and my graduate advisor at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the ethnobotanist Dr. Jan Salick.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
Biological conservation can and must work hand in hand with local people to advance both biodiversity and local livelihoods.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
Ask questions (of others, or even just of yourself) about the environment around you!