Traditional vegetation knowledge of the Hortobágy salt steppe (Hungary): a neglected source of information for vegetation science and conservation
Traditional vegetation knowledge of herders was studied in the Hortobágy steppe. In this paper (1) the habitat types/vegetation types herders distinguish, (2) the names they use for these folk habitats, (3) the botanical equivalents of folk habitats, and (4) the herders' description of the main vegetation types distinguished by phytosociologists are presented. Ecological anthropological methods such as participant observation, interviews, free listings were used for eliciting herders' knowledge. There were 2239 records of habitat names and features, and 1432 records of the knowledge of habitat requirements of plant species collected from 78 herders. Herders distinguished 4766 habitat types using 185 names. Many categories were more or less equivalent to the level of plant association, and some described mosaics of habitats. Herders divided the steppe into three large habitat groups: wet habitats (lapos in Hungarian, 1621 habitat categories), saline habitats (called szík, szíkes, 1116 categories), and habitats found on chernozem soils (called partos, telek, 8-13 categories). Another 10-14 categories were used by them to name habitats in arable areas and settlements. Herders distinguished and described habitats based on their productivity, salinity, wetness, dominant species, relative elevation on the steppe habitat gradient, surface geomorphology, land-use, density of vegetation, and passabilty. We will argue that traditional herders' knowledge can provide new information for scientists, e.g.on local vegetation dynamics and history. Understanding herders' vegetation knowledge, motivations and constraints in herding could also contribute to the improvement of nature conservation management e.g.by making communication between herders and scientists/conservationists more concrete, and perhaps by providing better targets for conservationists and environmental managers. Traditional vegetation knowledge is a neglected part of European culture, and it is fading quickly. An effective collection and understanding of this deep vegetation knowledge can best and most effectively be accomplished by scientists with experience in botany.