Environmental change and the contribution of biodiversity to ecosystem adaptation

Peer Reviewed
1 January 2010

This paper develops a measure of the contribution of biodiversity in enhancing ecosystem performance that is subject to environmental fluctuation.

The analysis draws from an ecological model that relates high phenotypic variance with lower short-term productivity (due to the presence of suboptimal species) and higher long-term productivity (due to better ability to respond to environmental fluctuations). This feature, which is a notable extension to existing economic-ecological models of biodiversity, enables assessment of the interactions between diversity and a range of environmental fluctuations to highlight that biodiversity could be rendered economically disadvantageous when environmental fluctuation is insufficient. The resulting economic-ecological model generates discounted present value of harvests for an ecosystem with diverse set of species. This value is compared with the harvest value of a similar economic-ecological model with no diversity and that of an ecosystem where the dynamics of phenotypes in response to environmental fluctuations is disregarded. The results show that diversity positively contributes to the performance of ecosystems subject to sufficiently large environmental fluctuation. In addition, neglecting an ecosystem's increasing ability to adapt to match environmental conditions is also shown to be more costly than having no diversity in an otherwise identical ecosystem.

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Publication | 9 September 2011