Beavers Provide Ecosystem Services In The Northern Hemisphere
Ecosystem services are critical to the survival of all living beings because they play a significant role in the regulation and provisioning of key resources such as water, air, and soil. However, many ecosystem services are being depleted at a rate that is faster than the rate of their replenishment. Given their significance to human survival and quality of life, one would think that efforts would be made to preserve and protect these ecosystems. However, that is not the case. In order to reverse these trends, a monetary value needs to be ascribed to these ecosystem services so that decision-makers can understand their economic significance as well.
The economic evaluation process is complex because as part of that evaluation, one must consider all the factors that moderate the quantity and quality of ecosystem services. Biodiversity plays a key role in this process given that many different life forms contribute to the sustainment of high-quality ecosystem services. One example is that of the beaver. Specifically, wetland beavers in the Northern Hemisphere engineer their ecosystem in a way that fosters nutrient recycling, water filtration, carbon storage, and storm-water management.
Using an ecosystems services framework, the economic value of beavers was evaluated via a meta-analysis of 43 usable documents (out of 105 documents reviewed) yielding 79 value estimates. However, it is important to point out that one limitation of the ecosystem services framework is that it does not account for the negative impacts that humans have on organisms within their natural habitats, which could affect the estimates. The value estimates represented all four ecosystem service categories (regulating, provisioning, supporting, and cultural). The regulating category had the highest number of estimates (n = 45) across moderation of extreme events, greenhouse gas sequestration, and water purification.
Once the value estimates were determined, a broader meta-analysis was used to determine the monetary value of a given wetland in US dollars. Next, their price values were standardized across the countries of interest using purchasing power parity adjusted exchange rates so that direct comparisons could be made.
The results show that biodiversity and habitat diversity provision, non-consumptive recreation, and greenhouse gas sequestration were the most valuable ecosystem services associated with the beaver habitat across one million hectares within the Northern Hemisphere. The economic value associated with beaver-related ecosystem services was estimated to range from $1.6 million (recreational hunting and fishing) to $133 million (habitat and biodiversity provision) across the entire Northern Hemisphere annually. These numbers represent the contributions of a single species; imagine the scale associated with multiple species!
This study highlights the importance of considering biodiversity and the impacts that various organisms have on ecosystem services. Specifically, this study highlights the need to consider the economic benefits of these ecosystem services, so that the necessary funding to support conservation efforts can be demonstrated through a cost-to-benefit ratio. By providing an economic estimate associated with a given species, we can appeal to those who are more heavily focused on conservation as well as those who focus more heavily on economics. We can see from this study that allocating funds for conservation efforts results in a win-win situation.