The complexity of biodiversity: A biological perspective on economic valuation

K. D. Farnsworth*, A. H. Adenuga, R. S. de Groot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


To value something, you first have to know what it is. Bartkowski et al. (2015) reveal a critical weakness: that biodiversity has rarely, if ever, been defined in economic valuations of putative biodiversity. Here we argue that a precise definition is available and could help focus valuation studies, but that in using this scientific definition (a three-dimensional measure of total difference), valuation by stated-preference methods becomes, at best, very difficult.We reclassify the valuation studies reviewed by Bartkowski et al. (2015) to better reflect the biological definition of biodiversity and its potential indirect use value as the support for provisioning and regulating services. Our analysis shows that almost all of the studies reviewed by Bartkowski et al. (2015) were not about biodiversity, but rather were about the 'vague notion' of naturalness, or sometimes a specific biological component of diversity. Alternative economic methods should be found to value biodiversity as it is defined in natural science. We suggest options based on a production function analogy or cost-based methods. Particularly the first of these provides a strong link between economic theory and ecological research and is empirically practical. Since applied science emphasizes a scientific definition of biodiversity in the design and justification of conservation plans, the need for economic valuation of this quantitative meaning of biodiversity is considerable and as yet unfulfilled.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-354
Number of pages5
JournalEcological Economics
Early online date24 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Biodiversity-function relations
  • Economic valuation
  • Indirect value
  • Stated preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Environmental Science(all)


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