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Non-Timber Treasures of the Forest and the Ecological Consequences of Over-Harvesting

NTFP photo.

Forests are home to a wide variety of plants that provide an array of services to humans. Non-timber forest products, referred to by scientists as NTFPs, are traded as valuable commodities on the international market in the form of edible products, floral greenery, and herbal medicines, among many other products. But the over-harvesting of NTFPs has great ecological consequences.

Exploring the effects of NTFP harvest worldwide is the focus of Orou Gaoue's research as a postdoctoral fellow at NIMBioS. Gaoue uses mathematical modeling to investigate the ways in which human activities affect plant population dynamics, and the implications that over-use of wild plants has on their sustainability.

Gaoue hopes that his research will inform about what makes some plants more likely to withstand heavy harvesting compared to others. This information could be useful in designing general harvesting plans for the thousands of wild plants harvested worldwide.

During his fellowship, Gaoue also plans to develop a comprehensive database on NTFP harvested plants, which will include species names, study locations, life form, type of harvest, and the projection matrices. He also plans to design a modeling software package to determine passage times, life expectancy, sensitivity of life expectancy, and age-specific mortality trajectories.

Gaoue, who is originally form Benin, became interested in the application of mathematical models to applied ecology while working in the Sub-Saharan Africa Forest Genetic Resources Program, part of Biodiversity International, an international organization working on plant genetic resources. There, he studied the question of species extinction, looking particularly at determining the appropriate methods for assessing the probability of extinction, and the role human activity plays in that decline.

Due to a lack of access to current literature on the topic in Africa at the time, Gaoue decided to apply for a position in a lab in the United States. His work in Dr. Eric Menges’ lab at the Archbold Biological Station in Florida had a significant impact on his career, and helped Gaoue decide to pursue graduate education.

From there, Gaoue undertook doctoral work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and obtained a PhD in botany in 2008.

"As an ecologist, NIMBioS is the ideal place to collaborate directly with mathematicians in using cutting-edge mathematical modeling techniques to answer applied ecological questions," Gaoue said. For more information about postdoctoral fellowships and other research and educational opportunities at NIMBioS, visit our website at


The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) brings together researchers from around the world to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to investigate solutions to basic and applied problems in the life sciences. NIMBioS is supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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