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Economic benefits of biodiversity exceed costs of conservation at an African rainforest reserve

R Naidoo & W Adamowicz

This paper quantifies the costs and benefits of avian biodiversity at a rainforest reserve in Uganda through a combination of economic surveys of tourists, spatial land-use analyses, and species-area relationships. The paper argues that although conventional wisdom suggests that biodiversity conservation is often a noncompetitive form of land use and, therefore, requires subsidising, the authors' results suggest that the economic benefits derived from avian biodiversity could protect 80-90 percent of a tropical forest reserve's bird species.

In particular, the paper finds that: 1) the tangible economic demand of tourists for increasing levels of biodiversity is strong evidence that consumers may actually prefer higher numbers of species to lower numbers and, more critically, be willing to pay for it, 2) revising entrance fees and redistributing ecotourism revenues would protect 114 of 143 forest bird species (80 percent) under current market conditions, 3) this total would increase to 131 species (90 percent) if entrance fees were optimised to capture the tourist's willingness to pay for forest visits and the chance of seeing increased numbers of bird species, and 4) in contrast, the cost of purchasing agricultural land for ecological rehabilitation of the avian habitat would be economically prohibitive.

Altogether the result of the paper show that areas rich in biodiversity may be able to charge more for visitation rights than less diverse areas and, hence, may provide a mechanism for funding conservation of highly speciose ecosystems. The results also suggest that local biodiversity markets could play a positive role in tropical conservation strategies if the appropriate institutions for redistribution can be developed.

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