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A reservoir of ethnobotanical knowledge informs resilient food security and health strategies in the Balkans

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Abstract

While all peoples are nested in their environments, their decisions and actions are mediated by culturally constructed values, beliefs and priorities. Ethnobotanical methods can show how different ethnic groups living within the same geographic landscape interact with environmental resources. Here, we explore the impact of culture on ethnobotanical knowledge, and practice on local food security and human health. Gora, a mountainous territory of northeastern Albania, is home to two culturally and linguistically distinct peoples: Gorani and Albanians. We investigated the divergences and convergences of ethnobotanical strategies among the groups with respect to the use of 104 plant species. Local knowledge modulated by cultural history has moulded these peoples' use of their natural environment, fostering resilience during periods of food insecurity.

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Figure 1: Map of the study area.
Figure 2: Use-value matrix comparison of two groups with access to the same flora and ecological resources.
Figure 3: Salix alba is a cultural keystone species that uniquely dominates the Gorani village landscapes.
Figure 4: The unripe fruit of Prunus domestica L. is a favoured snack of Gorani and Albanian children in the region.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Dr Justin Nolan (University of Arkansas) and Dr John R. Stepp (University of Florida) and Emory colleagues Dr James Lyles, Dr E. Jane Bradbury and Kate Nelson for critically reading the manuscript and their constructive comments. Thanks to Dr Kevin Cianfaglione (University of Camerino) and Dr Avni Hajdari (University of Prishtina) for assistance with voucher collection and identification. Funding support for this study was provided by the Emory University Center for the Study of Human Health and University of Gastronomic Sciences. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the communities and people who agreed to participate in this study. We also thank Mezahir Haxhijaha for simultaneous translation of the interviews.

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C.L.Q. and A.P. conceived and designed the study, performed the interviews, and analysed the data. C.L.Q. wrote the paper and A.P. provided revisions.

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Correspondence to Cassandra L. Quave.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Quave, C., Pieroni, A. A reservoir of ethnobotanical knowledge informs resilient food security and health strategies in the Balkans. Nature Plants 1, 14021 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2014.21

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