From wild harvest towards precision agriculture: Use of Ecological Niche Modelling to direct potential cultivation of wild medicinal plants in Crete.


Department of Biology, University of Crete, GR 714 09 Heraklion, Greece; Botanical Garden, University of Crete, Gallos University Campus, GR 741 00 Rethymnon, Greece. Electronic address: [Email]


Understanding the distribution of wild medicinal plants and areas that are suitable for cultivation of these plants is important for both conservation and agriculture. Here, we study ten taxa with known ethnopharmacological uses, which have been used extensively in traditional medicine and as culinary supplements. We aim to (1) predict and map the potential habitat suitability for these taxa across the study area, (2) investigate spatial patterns that could have management implications, such as niche similarities among the taxa and suitability "hotspots" with the use of novel indices, and (3) develop a platform where parts of this information can be accessed and utilized by all interested groups, from the policy-maker level to the individual practitioner level. Ecological Niche Models developed for each study taxon, based on topographic, bioclimatic, soil, and land use variables had high predictive power and were used as the basis for suitability visualization. A series of informative indices were also calculated and mapped, revealing spatial patterns not readily observable from the single-taxon predictions, and providing valuable information to managers. Finally, a web-based, easy-to-use application was also created, where the predicted suitability scores for the study area can be made accessible to anyone interested. The application can provide information both in a visual form (i.e. maps of predicted suitability) and in a numerical form (i.e. estimated suitability scores for all taxa in a given geographical location). This study provides the scientific tools to make a step towards cultivating a group of economically important wild medicinal plants in Crete, as well as the tools to disseminate this information to decision makers and practitioners, and eventually integrate the research findings in local agricultural practices.


Conservation,Ecological Niche Modelling,Interactive decision support,Medicinal plants,Resupply ethnopharmacological plants,

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