Importance indices in ethnobotany
- ISSN: 15473465
Measuring the “importance” of plants and vegetation to people is a central concern in quantitative ethnobotany. A common tool to quantify otherwise qualitative data in the biological and social sciences is an index. Relative cul- tural importance (RCI) indices such as the “use values” developed by Prance et al. (1987) and Phillips and Gentry (1993a, 1993b) are applied in ethnobotany to calculate a value per folk or biological plant taxon. These approaches can provide data amenable to hypothesis-testing, statisti- cal validation, and comparative analysis. The use of RCI indices is a growing trend in ethnobotanical research, yet there have been few attempts to compile or standardize divergent methods. In this review, we compare RCI indi- ces in four broad categories and present a step-by-step guide to some specific methods. Important background topics are addressed, including ethnographic methods, use categorization, sampling, and statistical analysis. We are concerned here only with “value” as a non-monetary concept. The aspiring and veteran researcher alike should find this paper a useful guide to the development and ap- plication of RCI indices.