Wild harvest: Distribution and diversity of wild food plants in rice ecosystems of Northeast Thailand

G.S. Cruz-Garcia*, P.C. Struik, D.E. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Rice fields provide not only a staple food but are also bio-diverse and multi-functional ecosystems. Wild food plants are important elements of biodiversity in rice fields and are critical components to the subsistence of poor farmers. The spatial and seasonal distribution of wild food plants were analysed across different sub-systems occurring within paddy ecosystems in two adjacent rice farming villages in Kalasin, Northeast Thailand. Data were collected in 102 sampling sites corresponding to seven sub-systems including tree rows, mounds, field margins, shelters, ponds, pond margins and levees. Frequency of occurrence and absolute abundance were quantified for each species in the two seasons of two years, and data on uses of wild food plant species were collected through focus group discussions. A total of 42 species from 28 botanical families were reported, and one third of these have been classified as weeds of rice by other authors. Results show that species abundance, frequency of occurrence and diversity varied seasonally and spatially within paddy rice ecosystems. Higher diversity indexes were observed in the monsoon in most sub-systems. The most diverse sub-systems in the monsoon were shelters, mounds and pond margins, and tree rows and mounds in the dry season. Field margins, ponds and levees presented lower diversity, but are habitat of aquatic species important for the local diet, such as Ipomoea aquatica and Marsilea crenata. The herbs Lobelia sp. and Glinus oppositifolius, classified as rice weeds, were most abundant species in the dry season and frequently consumed. Leucaena leucocephala, of which the roots, leaves and fruits are commonly consumed as vegetable, was the most abundant tree in most sub-systems. More than half of the species were specific to one or two sub-systems due to particular niche requirements. Three quarters of wild food plant species had additional uses besides food; with ten different types of use and multiple use categories occurring in the different sub-systems. This study highlights that the development of more productive lowland rice systems may jeopardize the diversity of wild food plant species in the rice landscape, which is important for the food security of the rural poor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Abundance
  • Ecosystem services
  • Food security
  • Paddy fields
  • Rice farmer
  • Seasonality
  • Southeast Asia
  • Spatial structure
  • Weed


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