Integration of ecological–biological thresholds in conservation decision making


Georgia Mavrommati, Kostas Bithas, Mark E. Borsuk, and Richard B. Howarth

Keywords: conservation criteria, economic valuation, planetary boundaries, safe minimum standards, sustainability, thresholds

Volume/Issue: Online

Year Published: 2016


In the Anthropocene, coupled human and natural systems dominate and only a few natural systems remain relatively unaffected by human influence. On the one hand, conservation criteria based on areas of minimal human impact are not relevant to much of the biosphere. On the other hand, conservation criteria based on economic factors are problematic with respect to their ability to arrive at operational indicators of well-being that can be applied in practice over multiple generations. Coupled human and natural systems are subject to economic development which, under current management structures, tends to affect natural systems and cross planetary boundaries. Hence, designing and applying conservation criteria applicable in real-world systems where human and natural systems need to interact and sustainably coexist is essential. By recognizing the criticality of satisfying basic needs as well as the great uncertainty over the needs and preferences of future generations, we sought to incorporate conservation criteria based on minimal human impact into economic evaluation. These criteria require the conservation of environmental conditions such that the opportunity for intergenerational welfare optimization is maintained. Toward this end, we propose the integration of ecological–biological thresholds into decision making and use as an example the planetaryboundaries approach. Both conservation scientists and economists must be involved in defining operational ecological–biological thresholds that can be incorporated into economic thinking and reflect the objectives of conservation, sustainability, and intergenerational welfare optimization

DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12745

Type of Publication: Journal Article