ITHACA, N.Y. -- If the planet's biota -- all the plants and animals andmicroorganisms -- sent a bill for their 1997 services, the total would be$2.9 trillion, according to an analysis by biologists at CornellUniversity.
For the United States alone, the tab for economic and environmentalbenefits of biodiversity would be $319 billion, the biologists report inthe December issue of the journal BioScience. (Vol. 47 pp. 747-757).
"When you compare our spending (to preserve biodiversity) to the benefitswe reap, we're really getting a bargain," said David Pimentel, theprofessor of ecology who led eight graduate students in Cornell's Collegeof Agriculture and Life Sciences through a rigorous analysis to arrive atwhat he terms a conservative estimate. A previous study had valued theworld's ecosystem services and natural capital at $33 trillion a year.
The Cornell study counted natural services of a diverse biota, such asorganic waste disposal, soil formation, biological nitrogen fixation,genetic resources to increase food crop and livestock yields, biologicalcontrol of pests, plant pollination, pharmaceuticals and other nature-basedproducts, ecotourism, and sequestration of carbon dioxide that otherwisewould contribute to global warming (see "Biotic Invoice," attached).
The biotic beneficence would be even greater, the Cornell biologistsobserved, if human society took full advantage of nature's geneticofferings. For example, cultivating perennial cereal grains that can beharvested continuously for 4 to 5 years without tilling and replanting --in place of annual grains whose energy-intensive spring and fall tillingexposes soil to wind and water erosion -- could reduce erosion as much as50 percent, saving $20 billion worth of soil and $9 billion in tractor fuelevery year in the U.S., according to the analysis. Genes for perennialcereal grains already exist in wild plant species, they said, estimatingthe worldwide value of a perennial grain system at $170 billion a year.
"We hope assessments such as this," Pimentel said, "can serve as afoundation to develop strategies and policies to preserve biologicaldiversity and maintain ecosystem integrity. All these services to humanityare possible only because our planet is such a diverse place. Everyspecies that's lost diminishes that vast resource and makes us all poorerfor the loss."
Estimated annual economic benefits of biodiversity in the United States andworldwide
Source: David Pimentel, Christa Wilson, Christine McCullum, Rachel Huang,Paulette Dwen, Jessica Flack, Quynh Tran, Tamara Saltman, Barbara Cliff
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
Activity United States World
Waste disposal $62 billion $760 billionSoil formation $5 billion $25 billionNitrogen fixation $8 billion $90 billionBioremediation of chemicals $22.5 billion $121 billionCrop breeding (genetics) $20 billion $115 billionLivestock breeding (genetics) $20 billion $40 billionBiotechnology $2.5 billion $6 billionBiocontrol of pests (crops) $12 billion $100 billionBiocontrol of pests (forests) $5 billion $60 billionHost plant resistance (crops) $8 billion $80 billionHost plant resistance (forest)$800 million $6 billionPerennial grains (potential) $17 billion $170 billionPollination $40 billion $200 billionFishing $29 billion $60 billionHunting $12 billion $25 billionSeafood $2.5 billion $82 billionOther wild foods $500 million $180 billionWood products $8 billion $84 billionEcotourism $18 billion $500 billionPharmaceuticals from plants $20 billion $84 billionCO2 sequestration $6 billion $135 billion
Total $319 billion $2.928 trillion
The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University News Service. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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