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Mapping ecosystem functions to the valuation of ecosystem services: implications of species–habitat associations for coastal land-use decisions


Habitats and the ecosystem services they provide are part of the world’s portfolio of natural capital assets. Like many components of this portfolio, it is difficult to assess the full economic value of these services, which tends to over-emphasize the value of extractive activities such as coastal development. Building on recent ecological studies of species–habitat linkages, we use a bioeconomic model to value multiple types of habitats as natural capital, using mangroves, sea grass, and coral reefs as our model system. We show how key ecological variables and processes, including obligate and facultative behaviors map into habitat values and how the valuation of these ecological processes can inform decisions regarding coastal development (habitat clearing). Our stylized modeling framework also provides a clear and concise road map for researchers interested in understanding how to make the link between ecosystem function, ecosystem service, and conservation policy decisions. Our findings also highlight the importance of additional ecological research into how species utilize habitats and that this research is not just important for ecological science, but it can and will influence ecosystem service values that, in turn, will impact coastal land-use decisions. While refining valuation methods is not necessarily going to lead to more rational coastal land-use decisions, it will improve our understanding on the ecological–economic mechanisms that contribute to the value of our natural capital assets.

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