24 Jun 2008

Ecosystem/Biodiversity Conservation

Paul Ferraro wants to hear your ideas on the most important economics-related research questions on ecosystem/biodiversity conservation.
I ask because I am the lone economist (as far as I can tell from the draft participant list) that has been invited to participate in a workshop at University of Cambridge to identify the 100 key global questions in ecosystem/biodiversity conservation. The list will be published in Conservation Biology and may influence global research on conservation issues. Thus I’d like to make sure that key economic questions are on that list.

I have been charged with soliciting feedback from economists familiar with biodiversity issues, and I have contacted about three dozen economists so far, but I realized that almost all of them are academics in high-income nations. I don't have broad connections to economists working in low and middle-income nations, but think their feedback would be valuable.

If you or their question(s), or a variant thereof are used, your name and organization will be cited in the supplementary material as the source for the question. Not exactly a citation, but at least some recognition. The deadline for submissions is July 1.

I recognize this is short notice. There is no need to put a lot of time into crafting a well phrased question. One question is fine, but people are welcomed to send me more.

Thanks in advance.

Best wishes,

p.s., examples, precise and imprecise, of some questions posed related to economics:
  • Under what conditions does poverty reduction reduce deforestation and other anthropogenic ecosystem pressures?
  • Is the net effect of urbanization positive or negative for ecosystem conservation?
  • Is widespread global economic growth incompatible with maintenance or expansion of ecosystems with full complements of native species and ecosystem functions?
  • How much nature is enough?
My question: "How do property rights and/or institutions directly affect primary resources (wood, water, fish) and indirectly affect biodiversity?"

Leave your ideas here.


  1. David: Regarding poverty, your first bullet point. A couple of good, large scale examples in which economics have reduced poverty? The history of global poverty reduction in the Third World since WWII as ministered by World Bank and the US generates my skepticism. Loads of highly credentialed economists were involved in these sorry efforts. I'm inclined to think that poverty is an unfortunate byproduct of what is (was, has the field evolved?) considered sound economics.

  2. How does the existing legal structure provide economic incentives for biodiversity conservation or alternatively for deforestation? For example, when I lived in Costa Rica there was a policy that allowed for "homesteading" and eventual ownership of a property if the area was cleared for agriculture.

  3. Don,

    First, those were not *my* bullet points. Second, I agree that the Bank has done quite a bit of resource-destroying -- and they may still be doing so. Third, I *do* think that poverty reduction can reduce deforestation (e.g., when people can pay to use kerosene instead of wood or even high-efficiency wood ovens). Property rights can accelerate poverty reduction by reducing overexploitation of common pool resources.

  4. David: Jim Sanchirico comes to mind as a card carrying economist to understands ecology, environment, and the union of the two.

  5. Sanchirico (yay Davis!) is great. Also consider his adviser (Jim Wilen) and John Antle (Montana State).

  6. A recent paper by Martin-Lopez in Conservation Biology shows that contingent valuation techniques are highly flawed and biased towards the "small furry cuddly" beasties! What is needed is a methodology for measuring biodiversity such that it can correlated with human valuation of bioidversity/habitats (see Feest, 2006).


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