BackgroundThe Tehuacán Valley is one of the areas of Mesoamerica with the oldest history of plant management. Homegardens are among the most ancient management systems that currently provide economic benefits to people and are reservoirs of native biodiversity. Previous studies estimated that 30% of the plant richness of homegardens of the region are native plant species from wild populations. We studied in Náhuatl communities the proportion of native plant species maintained in homegardens, hypothesizing to find a proportion similar to that estimated at regional level, mainly plant resources maintained for edible, medicinal and ornamental purposes.MethodsWe analysed the composition of plant species of homegardens and their similarity with surrounding Cloud Forest (CF), Tropical Rainforest (TRF), Tropical Dry forest (TDF), and Thorn-Scrub Forest (TSF). We determined density, frequency and biomass of plant species composing homegardens and forests through vegetation sampling of a total of 30 homegardens and nine plots of forests, and documented ethnobotanical information on use, management, and economic benefits from plants maintained in homegardens.ResultsA total of 281 plant species was recorded with 12 use categories, 115 ornamental, 92 edible, and 50 medicinal plant species. We recorded 49.8 ± 23.2 (average ± S.D.) woody plant species (shrubs and trees) per homegarden. In total, 34% species are native to the Tehuacán Valley and nearly 16% are components of the surrounding forests. A total of 176 species were cultivated through seeds, vegetative propagules or transplanted entire individual plants, 71 tolerated, and 23 enhanced. The highest species richness and diversity were recorded in homegardens from the CF zone (199 species), followed by those from the TRF (157) and those from the TDF (141) zones.ConclusionHomegardens provide a high diversity of resources for subsistence of local households and significantly contribute to conservation of native biodiversity. The highest diversity was recorded in homegardens where the neighbouring forests had the least diversity, suggesting that management of homegardens aims at compensating scarcity of naturally available plant resources. Cultivated species were markedly more abundant than plants under other management forms. Diversity harboured and management techniques make homegardens keystones in strategies for regional biodiversity conservation.


  • The Tehuacán Valley is one of the areas of Mesoamerica with the oldest history of plant management

  • In the municipality of Coyomeapan we studied the communities of Coyomeapan at elevations averaging 2800 m, Ahuatla at 2400 m, Yohuajca at 2200 m, Chimalhuaca at 1840 m, and Aticpac at 1140 m. In these communities the predominant vegetation is distributed in three main environmental zones as follows: (1) Cloud Forest Zone (CFZ) in Coyomeapan and Ahuatla, (2) Tropical Rainforest Zone (TRFZ) in Aticpac, and (3) Tropical Dry Forest Zone (TDFZ) in Chimalhuaca and Yohuajca

  • We included in our analysis information from homegardens of a Thorn-Scrub Forest Zone (TSFZ) previously studied by Blanckaert et al [20] in the village of San Rafael, in the municipality of Coxcatlán, neighbouring to Coyomeapan at 1200 m of elevation; we considered the information from the natural vegetation surrounding this village and studied by Vivar [41]

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The Tehuacán Valley is one of the areas of Mesoamerica with the oldest history of plant management. Homegardens commonly are reservoirs of agrobiodiversity and they may maintain native natural biodiversity [6,8], including genetic diversity of species occurring wild in forests [10,11,12] This is possible since local people that manage the system frequently carry to homegardens plants from the wild [13,14,15,16,17,18], which favours gene flow from wild and cultivated components [8,9,12,17,18,19] and ecological processes similar to those occurring in the surrounding forests. All these aspects in theory confer to homegardens a high resilience capacity [1]


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