Bénin is located in the West African Dahomey gap, a savannah corridor between the Lower and Upper Guinea forests. The Beninese landscape is 50% savannah and 2.5% gallery forest . It has recorded levels of high deforestation , with the remaining mosaic forest clusters and forested savannah scattered across the south of the country, housing 20% of the country’s flora and 64% of its threatened species . From April to October 2011, we carried out research in the eight southern-most departments of Bénin: Collines, Zou, Plateau, Kouffo, Mono, Atlantique, Littoral, and Oueme. We chose these departments on the basis of the high concentration of people, especially the ethnic majorities Fon and Yoruba, and the large number of medicinal plant markets in this region . We worked with mainly Fon and Yoruba ethnic groups in rural, urban, and marketplace settings within these eight departments.
Gabon borders the Atlantic Ocean at the Equator, between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea. It is estimated that over 80% of Gabon is covered with forest , with up to 65% of the forest considered primary . It currently has the highest loss of primary forest in Africa . The remaining land area is comprised of swamps, mangroves, and savannas . Research in Gabon was completed between June and December 2012, spanning the six provinces of Estuaire, Wolem-Ntem, Haut-Ogooué, Ngounié, Moyen Ogooué, and Ogooué-Ivindo. We worked in rural, urban and market settings with Bantu-speaking ethnic groups.
The research team worked within the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology , followed all protocols with partner institutions, and obtained formal invitations, research permits, and plant export permits. We carefully explained the nature of our research and obtained prior informed consent from all participants. We initiated our data collection at the marketplace, speaking informally with herbal medicine saleswomen and purchasing plants in order to familiarize ourselves with local healthcare priorities and commonly utilized medicinal plant species. We then utilized snow-ball sampling to identify additional women from the markets and women from urban and rural communities with whom we conducted our ethnobotanical questionnaires. Based on standard ethnobotanical methods , the questionnaires included free-listing exercises on common maternal and infant health ailments and structured questions on herbal recipes to treat specific illnesses.
In Bénin, we conducted a total of 85 ethnobotanical questionnaires, 42 on women’s health and 43 on childcare. The 85 questionnaires were carried out with 48 market vendors, 27 women from rural communities, and 10 women from urban communities. We worked with the following ethnic groups: Fon and related (66%), Yoruba and related (15%), Adja and related (6%) and mixed ethnicities (13%). In Gabon, we conducted a total of 78 ethnobotanical questionnaires, 40 on women’s health and 38 on childcare, distributed as follows: 56 with women from rural communities, 12 market vendors, and 10 women from urban communities. We worked with the following ethnic groups: Fang (43%), Mitsogo (15%), Babungu (15%), Obamba (8%), Ossimba (4%), Bapounou (4%), and other (11%). We defined urban settings as those communities with a population larger than 35,000 people, including the Beninese cities of Abomey, Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, Dassa, Lokossa, Pobe, and Porto-Novo and the Gabonese cities of Libreville, Franceville, and Oyem. Rural communities in which we worked included the villages surrounding these areas, with populations no larger than 6000 people. Interpreters were hired to translate local languages into French. The questionnaires in market settings took place in market stalls during regular business hours. In rural and urban locations, the questionnaires took place in the homes or businesses of the informant. All informants were given monetary compensation equivalent to local norms for their participation in the research.
Immediately after the completion of each questionnaire, informants led the research team on plant collection walks, resulting in the collection of over 1500 botanical specimens. We collected plant specimens for all cited local plant names following standard botanical methods. After successfully pairing the local name of a plant to a corresponding collection for later identification, we only made additional collections of repeated species when in doubt . We purchased plants cited by saleswomen directly on the market, and later accompanied the women into the field to match market specimens with their corresponding species in the wild. Duplicates of collected specimens were deposited at the Herbier National du Bénin (BEN) and the Herbier National du Gabon (LBV). A full set of specimens was deposited at the Wageningen branch of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands, now part of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (L).
We entered data acquired through the questionnaires into a database, which included scientific names, local names, plant part, preparation, recipe, and informant type. Identical local names within the same language were matched with the same corresponding scientific name of identified collections. We matched 98% of the Beninese database and 93% of the Gabonese database with scientific nomenclature. The remaining unidentified plants from each country were excluded from further analyses. The research data were then classified into vegetation type by means of our own observations in the field and botanical literature [35–39]. We divided the plants into five vegetation types: primary forest, disturbance vegetation- including secondary forest and shrubland around villages, savanna, mangroves/wetlands, and cultivated- including both wild plants taken from their natural surroundings and planted in home gardens and true domesticated species such as Zea mays. We also recorded the conservation status of each species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List , Red List for Bénin  and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) list .
We conducted cluster analyses for each country to assess the similarity of informants’ responses. All plant species cited by informants were entered into presence–absence data matrices for each country. We performed a Detrended Correspondence Analysis (DCA) in PC-ORD v 5.33, which identified the two main axes that caused the distribution of our informants and cited species . We plotted the 1st and 2nd axes in two-dimensional graphs to visualize the variation and overlap in plant species used by different informant types, making one comparison between women’s health and childcare informants and a second comparison between rural, urban, and market informants. Using Statistica version 8.0, we performed Kruskall-Wallis tests to assess whether women used plants mainly from secondary vegetation, and whether rural women used more vulnerable species than urban or market women. Vulnerable species were defined as primary forest species and those species that were included on the Bénin Red List, CITES, and/or IUCN Red list.