Catching up with the Quinlans

Associate Professor Marsha Quinlan researches medical anthropology and ethnobiology. She completed medical anthropology and ethnobotany research in Dominica, West Indies. Having investigated the ethnomedicine of conditions that locals consider illnesses, Quinlan advised graduate student Katie Flores through a master’s thesis investigating Dominican ethnomedicine of reproductive health. Locals do not view reproductive health conditions as “illnesses.” Marsha and Flores are now finishing a book on Dominican ethnophysiology and medical ethnobotany, which they hope will be in print by next fall.

A demonstration for safely preparing milk.
Public safety milk demonstration with Maasai

During the last four years, Marsha has been engaged in two East African multi-site projects that take an ethnobiological, one-health approach (i.e., studying interrelations of human, animal, and environmental health). In Ethiopia, she (in a U.S.–Ethiopian anthropological team) investigated Sidama traditional enset–cattle–human interdependence; new farming shifts (responses to changing climate, land ownership, and food security); and psychological corollaries of subsistence change. Her student Katie Flores (who also worked in Ethiopia on Dr. Courtney Meehan’s breastfeeding projects) is conducting dissertation research on environmental influences on Sidama reproduction and contraception.

Maasai boy holds a syringe.
Maasai boy holds syringe for giving cattle oxytetracycline/

For an interdisciplinary multi-cultural project in Tanzania, Marsha collaborated with a team of researchers in WSU’s School of Global Animal Health and the Department of Anthropology (including Professor Robert Quinlan and current and former WSU doctoral students Mark Caudell, PhD 2016; Casey Roulette, PhD 2015; and Jennifer Roulette, ABD). This is a study of livestock medication, human–animal interaction, and antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance with Maasai, Warusha, and Chaga pastoral and agro-pastoral ethnic groups. Marsha directed the Chaga field research. They found that lay use of antibiotics varied by ethnic group, as did consultation with professional veterinarians and observation of withdrawal of meat and milk from consumption during and following antibiotic treatment of livestock. Ethnicity, “sectors of veterinary care” (professional, popular, and folk sectors), and livelihood strategies thus strongly associated with antibiotic use and human exposure to antibiotics.

Marsha Quinlan
Marsha Quinlan

Among Maasai and Arusha, humans had significantly (p<0.001) higher prevalence of resistant bacteria compared with Chaga. They also studied medicinal plants and ethnomedical views. Marsha’s student Jen Roulette will graduate this year with a dissertation on health intervention implications of Maasai children’s health education and perceptions of ethnobiology and illness. Her advisee Cynthiann Heckelsmiller will start a dissertation on Maasai ethnobotanical learning and plant use.

Most recently, Marsha has begun acting on her life-long geographic interest in Latin America. She conducted pilot research on dog–human interaction in two Guatemalan sites, one Ladino, the other K’iche’ Maya. She advised Amy Snively-Martinez’s dissertation (PhD 2017) on South Guatemala smallholders’ increasing reliance on backyard poultry and on human antibiotics to treat poultry. Armando Medinaceli (co-advised by Marsha and Rob Quinlan) conducted half of his dissertation, Ethnobiological Collaboration with Two Societies of the Latin American Tropics, in Guatemala with Q’eqchi’ Maya. Amanda Thiel completed thesis research in Guatemala on medicinal plants in Q’eqchi’ Maya home-gardens. Marsha maintains interest in ethnobotany, her intended focus for future research is on the culture of human–animal interaction, specifically on health implications of human interaction with dogs in Mesoamerica.

Rob Quinlan and Maasai tribesman.
Rob Quinlan, left, talks with a Maasai tribesman.

Professor Rob Quinlan recently completed a three-part study of risk and resilience among Sidama enset (false banana) and maize farms in Southwest Ethiopia.

The study compares effects of impulsivity measured using Barrett Impulsivity Scales on time-to-recovery from household shocks (death or serious illness of a household member and/or crop-livestock loss). Contrary to expectations from standard “western” psychology, lack of “self-regulation” and “general impulsivity” were associated with faster recovery from household shocks among transitional maize farmers but not among traditional enset farmers.

This finding suggests that impulsivity may lead to adaptive functioning in unpredictable environments characterized by rapid culture change.

In other work, Rob continues collaborations with researchers from WSU’s Allen School for Global Animal Health regarding antibiotic use in livestock in Northern Tanzania among Maasai, Arusha, and Chaga people. The project is a large study, funded through NSF, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease. Rob, along with Mark Caudell (PhD 2017), and Professor Marsha Quinlan, served as lead social scientist for developing and managing mixed-methods data collection protocols and ethnographic insight to develop hypotheses concerning behaviors involved in the selection and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Key findings include extensive use of unregulated antimicrobials and nearly complete lack of “withdrawal” (non-consumption) of meat and milk from animals currently and recently treated with injectable antimicrobials among Maasai livestock owners. Preliminary micropathology results indicate that Maasai people have substantially higher prevalence of antimicrobial resistant E. coli than other ethnic groups, which is likely due to antimicrobial residues in milk combined with milk storage in calabashes containing E. coli. It appears that milk storage in calabashes amplifies bacterial growth, and antimicrobial residues in milk select for resistance within calabashes, leading to high prevalence of antibiotic resistance among Maasai people.

Rob has begun several new projects with various collaborators. One new project examines the effect of guns on social-ecological systems in small-scale populations. Along with Armando Medinaceli (PhD 2018), Rob recently published an emic cost-benefit analysis of hunting with shotguns vs. bows based on Medinaceli’s fieldwork among Tsimane’ people in Bolivia. Using other data from the Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (Bolivia), Rob’s new analyses show that use of shotguns increases return rates per hour of hunting compared with bows; however, shotguns deplete local game resulting in lower encounter rates with game in areas experiencing intensive gun hunting. In contrast .22-caliber rifles offer no benefits over traditional bows for Tsimane’ hunters, although they are expensive and contribute to household debt and dependence on outside merchants.