Calculating economic value of forests often overlooks biodiversity, study finds

6 JAN 2015

Photo courtesy Michael Tweddle


BOGOR, Indonesia—If you are a land-use planner in a tropical country, how do you decide whether an area should be used to grow food, conserved for its biological diversity or protected for its ecosystem services (such as erosion control or pollination)?

Conventional yardsticks for measuring the value of ecosystem services miss the nuances of highly varied tropical landscapes, researchers say.

They especially underestimate the economic value of places with high biodiversity; these sites are often far from populated areas, according to a new study in the journal Biological Conservation.

If we focus our policies on economic concerns, we are going to miss out on biodiversity

As a result, policies designed to protect areas where ecosystem services have high economic value may exclude places high in biodiversity, even though they are crucial for food security and livelihoods in remote communities, the study’s authors say.

“We need to take a more nuanced approach and concentrate our limited resources on areas that not only provide ecosystem services, but are also correlated with high biodiversity,” said Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the study’s authors.


With growing demand for food production in tropical countries, planners use the value of ecosystem services to make land-use decisions. But most calculations are based on average values that do not reflect the great variation in tropical ecosystems, the study says.

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