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Wayne Law

Ph.D., Washington University
St. Louis, MO, 2007


Ethnobotany; Ecology


Ethnobotany, ecology, and conservation biology

Research locations



My interests lie at the crossroads of ethnobotany, conservation, and ecology. The goals of my research are to document traditional knowledge, to preserve cultures for future generations, and to understand the dynamics of how modernization is influencing the plants and communities that use them. For my dissertation I studied high alpine plants known as Snow Lotus (Saussurea laniceps and S. medusa) which grow in the cliff and scree slopes of the Eastern Himalayas. Primarily harvested as medicinal plants, a greater demand is being placed on the collection of these plants for exportation and souvenirs. In order to conserve these two species, I analyzed the impacts of harvesting on population growth rate, the size of plants, and the relationships with its pollinators and devised sustainable harvesting strategies.

Currently I am working on Pohnpei and Kosrae, the two eastern-most high islands of the Caroline Island chain. On both these islands traditional knowledge is being lost rapidly. Access to off-island items has led to a reliance on outside medicine, food, and resources. Many of the traditional ways have been forgotten in the younger generation, and the older generation, are the only key to these island’s pasts. The increased consumption of sakau (also known in other areas as kava), has led to increased farming in the upland forest. My research on these islands involves conducting floristic studies, with a special emphasis on difficult to access places. As many areas in the upland forest have not been thoroughly surveyed, I focus my collecting efforts to explore these remote areas that are rarely visited. By compiling information for a preliminary checklist of the plant resources and categorizing vegetation on the island, this research will be directly applicable to conservation in The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). As the region prepares to meet the “Micronesia Challenge” (protect 30% of near-shore marine resources and 20% of terrestrial habitats throughout Micronesia by the year 2020), and protect the ecosystems as described by The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Blueprint for Conserving the Biodiversity of the Federated States of Micronesia, the floristic information collected during this work will be directly applicable and help provide the baseline information for conservation planning.

Selected Publications

Law, W., J. Salick, T. M. Knight. (2010) The effects of pollen limitation on population dynamics of snow lotus, a threatened Tibetan medicinal plant of the Eastern Himalayas. Plant Ecology. 210: 343-357. Download PDF

Byg, A., J. Salick, & W. Law (2010) Medicinal Plant Knowledge Among Lay People in Five Eastern Tibet Villages. Human Ecology. 38(2): 177-191 Download PDF

Balick, M.J., D.H. Lorence, D. Lee Ling, & W. Law. (2009) Plants and People of Pohnpei: An Overview. In: Balick, M.J. (ed), Ethnobotany of Pohnpei: Plants, People, and Island Culture. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu

Law, W. & J. Salick. (2007) Comparing conservation priorities for useful plants: Botanists and Tibetan doctors. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16 (6): 747-1759. Download PDF

Salick, J., A. Amend, B. Gunn, W. Law, H. Schmidt, & A. Byg. (2006) Tibetan Medicine Plurality. Economic Botany, 60 (3): 227-253. Download PDF

Law, W. & J. Salick. (2005) Human induced dwarfing of Himalayan snow lotus, Saussurea laniceps (Asteraceae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 102 (29): 10218-10220. Download PDF

Updated July 12, 2007