Ethnobiology studies the relationship between humans and their environment in history and present time. It is often divided into two main fields — ethnobotany dealing with plants and ethnozoology dealing with animals.

Issues of interest for an ethnobiologist is what plants or animals are or were known to a certain group of people or in a certain region. How are these plants or animals used? In which way and to whom are they important? What is their significance?

Linguistic research, previous and present names of plants and animals are important, as are the symbolic significance, concepts and attitudes held by the people towards their environment. An ethnobiologist studies also folk taxonomy – how people define plants and animals, folk beliefs and attitudes, folklore, legends, myths and all kinds of relevant archaeological, historical, ethnographic and anthropological data.

Plants and animals are always studied in a social, economic and cultural context. Questions are asked about their significance, for instance in building social networks and relationships, their contribution to the economy of the region and their impact on culture.

Traditional economy, how plants and animals have been gathered, hunted or fished, how the products are used or preserved, traded or bartered and how they are consumed is highly interesting for an ethnobiologist. Also medicinal use of plants and animals, as well as all related social activities are studied.

Last but not least, an ethnobiologist considers ecological matters. In any region in the world there is a lot of traditional ecological knowledge which can be gathered and documented. How human activities affect the environment and how humans adapt to changing ecological situations is of great importance, as are ecological and biological data.

As a whole, ethnobiology deals with daily life.

Baltic ide fishing

Ide fishing was previously an important occupation along the Baltic Sea coast in Sweden and Finland. Ide (Leuciscus idus) was mostly fished in summer, when shoals gathered in warm waters close to the beaches. In the article Sabira Ståhlberg and Ingvar Svanberg discuss the knowledge and concepts of the coastal inhabitants about the fish, fishing methods and traditions related to ide and ide fishing. See Journal of Northern Studies 2/2011.

Pioneers of Ethnobiology

This collection of essays gathers together pioneers of European ethnobiology from Spain in the west to Siberia in the east, discusses the origin of ethnobiology in different countries and provides a broad picture of the historical origins of the science.

Sabira Ståhlberg and Ingvar Svanberg participate in the book with an article about Johan Peter Falck, a Swedish researcher and student of Carl Linnaeus. Falck travelled in Siberia in the 1770s and described botanical, zoological, hydrological, geological as well as ethnographic and linguistic data.

The book can be downloaded here.


Cryptozoology studies the creatures that science cannot completely explain. Almas among the Kazakhs and wildmen in Mongolia are such human-like creatures. Read more about them in an article the journal Anthropos (2017).