Does it help conservation to put a price on nature?October 30, 2014
Putting a price on the services which a particular ecosystem provides may encourage the adoption of greener policies, but it may come at the price of biodiversity conservation. Writing today (30 October) in the journal Science, Professor Bill Adams of the University's Department of Geography argues that assigning a quantitative value to nature does not automatically lead to the conservation of biodiversity, and may in fact contribute to species loss and conflict.
While assigning a monetary value to the benefits of an ecosystem can be an essential tool in the environmental planning process, unequal access to those benefits, particularly where there are differences in wealth and power, can lead to poor trade-offs being made, both for the ecosystem itself and those who rely on it.
"Putting a price on what nature provides is not in itself a conservation measure," said Adams. "There is a risk that traditional conservation strategies oriented toward biodiversity may not be effective at protecting the economic benefits of an ecosystem, and vice-versa."
For example, when stream channels in the US state of Maryland were re-engineered to provide a means of natural flood control, it ended up causing the loss of trees which had been growing next to the water and were unable to adapt to their new, drier environment.
The ways in which we depend on our natural environment are increasingly expressed as 'ecosystem services', or the range of benefits we get from nature for free. These benefits include the provision of food and clean water, erosion control and carbon storage.
Quantifying the value of nature in this way is meant to allow policymakers to consider the potential economic and social impacts of altering a particular habitat.
This approach does sometimes lead to win-win scenarios, where the value of ecosystem services is dependent upon a high level of biodiversity. One example is in the coffee plantations of Costa Rica, where the retention of forest habitat in areas around the plantations doubled the amount of pest control of coffee berry borer beetle provided by birds, which benefitted the coffee farmers while protecting biodiversity.
However, consideration of ecosystem services when making decisions does not automatically lead to retention of biodiversity. "In many cases, trade-offs are made," said Adams.
Several factors cause tension between biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. One problem is that the biological and physical processes that guarantee the supply of specific ecosystem services may be different from those that support valued species. An ecosystem that is managed to deliver particular services may not support particular elements of biodiversity.
A second problem is that there are often no markets for some vital services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, and while payment schemes can be created to create market-like structures, the value assigned to ecosystem services depends on market prices, which are subject to change.
A third problem arises from the institutional and political processes linking economic benefits from ecosystems and human wellbeing. "Unequal access to benefits, for example where there are differences in wealth and power among stakeholders, can lead to trade-offs being made, with negative impacts for the ecosystem itself and those who rely on it," Adams comments "It's not enough to identify the net benefits of ecosystem services; it also matters who gets them."
For example, in Nepal, research has shown that forests managed by the local community, rather than by the state, yielded benefits of clean water, tourism and harvested wild goods. However, these forests restricted poorer people's access to forest-derived products, creating hardship, illegal use and impacts on other areas.
"In a world run according to economic arguments, the survival of biotic diversity will depend on its price," said Adams. "Sometimes economics will favour conservation and sometimes it won't. But conservationists need to plan for both outcomes."
Sarah Collins, Office of Communications
University of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0)1223 765542, Mob: +44 (0)7525 337458
Notes for editors:
1. "The value of valuing nature" appears in the 31 October edition of the journal Science.
University of Cambridge
Related Biodiversity Articles:
The species-area relationship (SAC) is a long-time considered pattern in ecology and is discussed in most of academic Ecology books.
Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are not in better environmental shape than the rest of the world.
A unique international study has debunked the popular view that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are in much better ecological shape than the rest of the world.
The popular view that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are in a much better environmental shape than the rest of the world has been brought into question in a study publishing on March 28 in the open access journal PLOS Biology, by an international team lead by Steven L.
Why is the diversity of animals and plants so unevenly distributed on our planet?
Could birdwatching or monitoring tree blossoms in your community make a difference in global environmental research?
A new global assessment of forests -- perhaps the largest terrestrial repositories of biodiversity -- suggests that, on average, a 10 percent loss in biodiversity leads to a 2 to 3 percent loss in the productivity, including biomass, that forests can offer.
Levels of global biodiversity loss may negatively impact on ecosystem function and the sustainability of human societies, according to UCL-led research.
A striking decline in ant biodiversity found on land converted to a rubber plantation in China.
Nitrogen pollution is a recognized threat to sensitive species and ecosystems.
Related Biodiversity Reading:
Biodiversity: An Introduction
by Kevin J. Gaston (Author), John I. Spicer (Author)
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD ARTWORK
This concise introductory text provides a complete overview of biodiversity - what it is, how it arose, its distribution, why it is important, human impact upon it, and what should be done to maintain it.Timely overview of the serious attempts made to quantify and describe biodiversity in a scientific way Acts as an easy entry point into the primary literature Provides real-world examples of key issues, including illustrations of major temporal and spatial patterns in biodiversity Designed primarily with undergraduate... View Details
Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth (CitizenKid)
by Rochelle Strauss (Author), Margot Thompson (Illustrator)
If every known species on Earth were a leaf on a tree, that tree would have 1 750 000 leaves. Since humans count for just one leaf on the tree, we have a lot to learn about the millions of other forms of life with which we share the world. A dazzlingly illustrated and child-friendly introduction to biodiversity, Tree of Life shows how living things are classified into five kingdoms -- and how each has much to tell us about all aspects of life on our planet. Tree of Life is part of CitizenKid: A collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global... View Details
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert (Author)
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST
A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes
Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists... View Details
Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity
by Eric Chivian (Editor), Aaron Bernstein (Editor)
The Earth's biodiversity-the rich variety of life on our planet-is disappearing at an alarming rate. And while many books have focused on the expected ecological consequences, or on the aesthetic, ethical, sociological, or economic dimensions of this loss, Sustaining Life is the first book to examine the full range of potential threats that diminishing biodiversity poses to human health.
Edited and written by Harvard Medical School physicians Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, along with more than 100 leading scientists who contributed to writing and reviewing the book,... View Details
Biodiversity: Exploring Values and Priorities in Conservation
by D. J. Perlman (Author), G. Adelson (Author)
Biodiversity has become a buzzword in the environmental movement and in science, and is increasingly being taught in university degree courses. This new text is designed as a primer, giving non-specialists an introduction to the historical context, current debates, and ongoing research in this subject. View Details
Complexity: The Evolution of Earth's Biodiversity and the Future of Humanity
by William C. Burger (Author)
This very readable overview of natural history explores the dynamics that have made our planet so rich in biodiversity over time and supported the rise and dominance of our own species.
Tracing the arc of evolutionary history, biologist William C. Burger shows that cooperation and symbiosis have played a critical role in the ever increasing complexity of life on earth. Life may have started from the evolution of cooperating organic molecules, which outpaced their noncooperating neighbors. A prime example of symbiosis was the early incorporation of mitochondria into the eukaryotic... View Details
Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society, Volume 1
by Robert G. Foottit (Editor), Peter H. Adler (Editor)
Volume One of the thoroughly revised and updated guide to the study of biodiversity in insects
The second edition of Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society brings together in one comprehensive text contributions from leading scientific experts to assess the influence insects have on humankind and the earth’s fragile ecosystems. Revised and updated, this new edition includes information on the number of substantial changes to entomology and the study of biodiversity. It includes current research on insect groups, classification, regional diversity, and a wide range... View Details
Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States
by Bruce A. Stein (Editor), Lynn S. Kutner (Editor), Jonathan S. Adams (Editor)
From the lush forests of Appalachia to the frozen tundra of Alaska, and from the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest to the subtropical rainforests of Hawaii, the United States harbors a remarkable array of ecosystems. These ecosystems in turn sustain an exceptional variety of plant and animal life. For species such as salamanders and freshwater turtles, the United States ranks as the global center of diversity. Among the nation's other unique biological features are California's coast redwoods, the world's tallest trees, and Nevada's Devils Hole pupfish, which survives in a single... View Details
The Diversity of Life: With a New Preface (Questions of Science)
by Edward O. Wilson (Author)
View a collection of videos on Professor Wilson entitled "On the Relation of Science and the Humanities"
"In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon. There in the perfect bowl of the night sky, untouched by light from any human source, a thunderstorm sends its premonitory signal and begins a slow journey to the observer, who thinks: the world is about to change." Watching from the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, witness to the sort of violence nature visits upon its creatures, Edward O. Wilson reflects on the crucible of... View Details
Breakfast Of Biodiversity: The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction
by John Vandermeer (Author), Ivette Perfecto (Author), Vandana Shiva (Foreword)
In Breakfast of Biodiversity, John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto insightfully describe the ways in which such disparate factors as the international banking system, modern agricultural techniques, rain forest ecology, and the struggles of the poor interact to bring down the forest. They weave an alternative vision in which democracy, sustainable agriculture, and land security for the poor are at the center of the movement to save the tropical environment.
This new, fully updated edition of Breakfast of Biodiversity discusses important new developments in our understanding of rain... View Details