Introducing the Potential Medicinal and Ecological Value of a Pioneer Tree Species as a Justification to Conserve and Sustainably Manage Tropical Secondary Forests: Vismia macrophylla as a Case Study

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Increasingly, secondary forests in Costa Rica are cleared before having the decades needed to reach maturity. This paper investigates the medicinal and ecological value that a small community in Costa Rica's Northern Zone receives from regenerating secondary forests by presenting a case study of pioneer tree species Vismia macrophylla. Two expert healers within this community described V. macrophylla's antifungal properties; one further demonstrated its harvest, preparation, and application. To supplement local medicinal knowledge, we completed a gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis of V. macrophylla tissue. We found potential antibiotic efficacy, which we suggest is primarily linked to acetic acid, and identified hexanal, which is recognized as antifungal. We surveyed V. macrophylla demography and surrounding plant diversity in 20-50 m2 plots in the primary and secondary forests to better understand the ecological context in which it occurs. We found V. macrophylla grew taller and wider in secondary forests. Furthermore, plant diversity was similar between primary and secondary forest plots with V. macrophylla. Our findings highlight the value of secondary forests in providing medicinally important species, like V. macrophylla, to their neighboring communities as they undergo succession. Our study illustrates how interdisciplinary ethnographic, chemical, and ecological research can be used to promote the sustainable use and preservation of recovering secondary forests for the benefit of the communities they surround.

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Journal of Ethnobiology

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