A survey of wild collection and cultivation of indigenous species in Iceland


Hotspots of bio and cultural diversity have been and continue to be the focus of conservation efforts and ethnobotany explorations worldwide (Hoffman and Gallaher 2007) as they harbor such a great number of species and ethnicities. However, the loss of native species and habitats is also taking place in “cold spots” with low bio (Kassam 2008) and cultural diversity such as Iceland. This study is based on surveys with a select group of Icelandic people who utilize native species of plants as well as fungi and marine algae (e.g., chefs, farmers, gardeners and herbalists). It covers the use of native and naturalized introduced species and uses the terms, materials, and methods of ethnobotany to document, describe and explain these uses (Alexiades 1996). Ethnobotany’s rich and rigorous history, diverse and growing methodologies (Albuquerque and Hanazaki 2009) and potential for deepening the understanding of relationships between people and biota (Martin 1995; Balée and Brown 1996) make it a particularly useful tool for an exploration of the human uses of plants, as well as algae and fungi in Iceland. Icelanders live in a fragile ecosystem still disturbed by a settlement period (landnám) which took place over 1,000 years ago. Most inhabitants are still almost entirely dependent on goods transported from the mainland (Gun- narsson 1983). Throughout the natural history of Iceland which is documented in the sagas Íslendingabókar and Landnámabók (Benediktsson 1968) and in archeological records, represented at the Reykholt settlement in Borgarf- jördur (Buckland et al. 1992; Sveinbjarnardottir et al. 2007) and at a feasting hall in Hofstaðir (Lucas 2010) Icelanders have had a challenging relationship with their surrounding natural resources. Forest resources were an essential part of life at landnám: Firewood provided light, warmth, and the ability to cook and do metal work (Simpson et al. 2003). During landnám, Vikings cut many of the forests and sub- sequent regeneration was largely impossible due to the rooting and grazing of livestock (Hallsdóttir 1987; Eysteins- son and Blöndal 2003). This process of land-use change from forests to grazing lands has continued since landnám and, in many cases, has lead to serious soil degradation (Erlendsson et al. 2009). Iceland has seen a loss of over 40 % of the soil present since landnám (Arnalds et al. 1987; Dugmore and Erskine 1994), and erosion is still among the top conservation issues in the country (Arnalds and Barkarson 2003). Of particular concern is the contribution of soil loss to the spreading of black basalt deserts (Arnalds et al. 2000). However, some conservation minded Icelanders are seeking new strategies for a more sustainable relationship with their environment through the use of native plants as well as algae and fungi for things such as food and medicine.