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date: 25 February 2018

Valuation of Biodiversity

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Massive population declines and species extinction have characterized the 20th and early 21st centuries. These local and global phenomena do not only involve the loss of particular species, habitats, and ecosystem services; they also result in a general reduction in biotic diversity. Ecological research has long indicated the importance of biodiversity within and across ecosystems. However, capturing the economic value of biodiversity remains a challenge.

Biodiversity is a multidimensional public good; it encompasses the diversity of genes, species, functional groups, habitats, and ecosystems. A large empirical literature in biology and ecology indicates that biodiversity has a stabilizing effect on ecosystems—the higher the biodiversity within a given ecosystem type, the more stable and resilient (well-functioning) is the ecosystem. However, the economic importance of biodiversity goes beyond this stabilizing effect.

The multidimensionality and complexity of the biodiversity concept has led to a multitude of approaches to its economic valuation. While the theoretical and conceptual literature has focused on biodiversity as insurance and pool of options, empirical studies have been much more diverse. Given the public-good nature and complexity of biodiversity, stated preference methods are particularly common. The focus on biodiversity valuation has fostered many important theoretical and methodological developments. Many estimates exist of the willingness to pay for biodiversity conservation in different countries across the world; however, relatively few studies have been conducted in developing countries, despite the considerably higher biodiversity levels there as compared with the better-covered developed countries.

Valuation of biodiversity is a controversial subject and the economic, predominantly anthropocentric approach has been criticized frequently. However, non-anthropocentric accounts of biodiversity value are problematic for their own reasons; an important question is whether biodiversity has intrinsic value and, if yes, whether this can be captured within the economic perspective. Valuation of biodiversity remains a vibrant topic at the intersections of disciplines such as ecology, environmental ethics, and economics.