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Beyond Biomass: Valuing Genetic Diversity in Natural Resource Management


Strategies for increasing production of goods from working and natural systems have raised concerns that the diversity of species on which these services depend may be eroding. This loss of natural capital threatens to homogenize global food supplies and compromise the stability of human welfare. We assess the trade off between artificial augmentation of biomass and degradation of biodiversity underlying a populations' ability to adapt to shocks. Our application involves the augmentation of wild stocks of salmon. Practices in this system have generated warnings that genetic erosion may lead to a loss of the “portfolio effect” and the value of this loss is not accounted for in decision making. We construct an integrated bioeconomic model of salmon biomass and genetic diversity. Our results show how practices that homogenize natural systems can still generate positive returns. However, the substitution of more physical capital and labor for natural capital must be maintained for gains to persist, weakens the capacity for adaptation should this investment cease, and can cause substantial loss of population wildness. We apply an emerging optimization method—approximate dynamic programming—to solve the model without simplifying restrictions imposed previously.

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