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This paper will describe the importance of odor for woody plant taxonomy …

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- The importance of chemosensory clues in Aguaruna tree classification and identification

The research described in this paper took place in several Aguaruna communities on the Nieva river, from 2002 to 2004 [11] (Figures 2 and 3). Additional follow-up work was also conducted in Summer, 2007. The study communities are located in the eastern foothills of the Andes. Elevations range from 230 m to 500 m above sea level, with mountains up to 1000 m or so in close proximity [[14], pp.42–43]. The communities and adjacent land correspond to tropical wet forest and premontane tropical rainforest in the Holdridge scheme [15].

Figure 2. A view of the hill 'Tayuntsa mujaji' from near the study community of Bajo Cachiaco.

Figure 3. Map of the study area.

Fifteen Aguaruna informants participated in interviews designed to determine the most salient morphological and ecological features of folk genera within the Aguaruna life form númi – 'trees excluding palms.' I obtained verbal prior informed consent (PIC) for every interview. The research followed ethical guidelines adopted by the International Society of Ethnobiology.

For each interview, I first requested the informant to give a freelist of all the trees he could name. These freelist data allowed for the creation of a master list of 182 Aguaruna tree folk genera. Next, I asked informants to list the most prominent features of each tree name (e.g. red sap, large leaves, smooth trunk, grows by the side of streams) in order to get an idea of how each taxon might be recognized and distinguished from other tree taxa [12].

The Aguaruna use the word kumpají – 'its companion' [11], to describe two or more folk genera that they believe to be related. For example, the trees takák (Ocotea gracilis, Lauraceae) and máegnum (Ocotea floribunda, Lauraceae) are said to be companions, since both have a similar bark odor and fruit shape. As part of the structured interviews, I asked each informant to name any companions of trees mentioned on his freelist. Roughly two thirds of all folk genera were said to have companions, while one third was considered to be unrelated to other trees. Although there was a certain amount of disagreement as to which trees are related, thirty widely recognized groups of companions were found. For each of those groups, informants were asked to explain what members have in common, and how each member is different from others. In twelve of the thirty (40%) of commonly accepted groups, all members shared a common odor. Clearly, odor can be an important clue for recognizing which trees are related.

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