Valuing Biodiversity

The "value" of biodiversity is a highly subjective concept that is at times difficult to understand and often causes fierce debate. There are two main categories of value for biodiversity: (1) utilitarian/instrumental or extrinsic value and (2) intrinsic or inherent value.

A living thing's utilitarian value is deter mined by its practical use or application. Usually we frame this in terms of its use for humans, such as for medicine or food, but it could also represent the value of an organism to other living things. Native bees, for example, serve as pollinators for many plants. Utilitarian values are often categorized as goods, services, information, spiritual, cultural, aesthetic, and recreational. In contrast to utilitarian value, intrinsic value describes the inherent worth of an organism, independent of its value to anyone or anything else. Those who believe in intrinsic value argue that all living things have intrinsic value—essentially a right to life— regardless of their extrinsic value.

Although the utilitarian/intrinsic/instrumental groupings are often used (Meffe and Carroll, 1997), there are other ways of categorizing the value of biodiversity. Frequently, people also distinguish things with economic, or market, value from those without it (Pri-mack, 1998). In a somewhat more complex system, Kellert (1996) describes nine basic values that humans hold for nature and biodiversity: utilitarian; naturalistic or outdoor; ecologistic-scientific; aesthetic; symbolic; humanistic; moralistic; dominionistic; and negativisitic (see Table 1).

We will focus on two main categories of biodiversity value: utilitarian and intrinsic.

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