Recommended standards for conducting and reporting ethnopharmacological field studies

Weckerle, Caroline S.; Boer, Hugo J. de; Puri, Rajindra K.; Andel, Tinde van; Bussmann, Rainer W.; Leonti, Marco


Ethnopharmacological relevance What are the minimum methodological and conceptual requirements for an ethnopharmacological field study? How can the results of ethnopharmacological field studies be reported so that researchers with different backgrounds can draw on the results and develop new research questions and projects? And how should these field data be presented to get accepted in a scientific journal such as the Journal of Ethnopharmacology? The objective of this commentary is to create a reference that covers the basic standards necessary during planning, conducting and reporting of field research. Materials and methods We focus on conducting and reporting ethnopharmacological field studies on medicinal plants or materia medica and associated knowledge of a specific people or region. The article highlights the most frequent problems and pitfalls, and draws on published literature, fieldwork experience, and extensive insights from peer-review of field studies. Results Research needs to be ethical and legal, and follow local and national regulations. Primary ethnopharmacological field data need to be collected and presented in a transparent and comprehensible way. In short this includes: 1) Relevant and concise research questions, 2) Thorough literature study encompassing all available information on the study site from different disciplines, 3) Appropriate methods to answer the research questions, 4) Proper plant use documentation, unambiguously linked to voucher specimens, and 5) Qualitative and quantitative analyses of the collected data, the latter relying on use-reports as basic units. Conclusion Although not exhaustive, we provide an overview of the necessary main issues to consider for field research and data reporting including a list of minimal standards and recommendations for best practices. For methodological details and how to correctly apply specific methods, we refer to further reading of suggested textbooks and methods manuals.