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These notes offer an interdisciplinary contribution to economics and ecology. The focus is on the coexistence of economic and ecological prosperity. We discuss two topics. We show how best to harvest a resource such as a marine fishery based on a contemporary metapopulation model from ecology, and we also offer a replacement for the neoclassical model of economics that shows how an economy depends on the aggregate of its natural resources, the human population size, and the investment policy. The work on these two topics has been carried out in part simply to see how ecological and economic theory may be combined. The theme of biodiversity is also involved, however, because it emerges that the optimal harvest of a fishery with a pelagic larval phase depends on the biological diversity, not of species, but of habitats in which the adults live. Also, in the macroeconomic realm, work on the second topic shows a dependence of economic prosperity on the stock of natural resources, and implies the need to conserve natural resources from extinction if economic prosperity is to be attained. From an ecological perspective, policies for the development of natural resources should rest on the more realistic models of population dynamics that have emerged in recent years from ecological research, rather than on early ecological textbook models such as the logistic equation. An equation such as the logistic remains valuable when working through practice exercises, just as myths like ideal pulleys and gases remain valuable in teaching mechanics and chemistry.
Analyses of biodiversity typically revolve around four questions, two of which are generally characterised as questions in ecology, and two as questions in economics. They are:
How do natural processes and human actions affect the number and persistence of species?
What different roles does biodiversity serve in determining the structure and function of ecosystems?
What are the social and economic driving forces that generate human impacts on biodiversity?
What is the value of biodiversity for human agricultural, ethical, medical, renewable resource and social purposes?
This chapter is written by ecologists for nonecologists – and primarily for economists. In one sense it is a primer describing our present state of understanding of ecosystems, the way they are structured, the way they function and the way they respond to disturbance and human management. In doing so, we concentrate on the first two questions. We attempt to do so in such a way that nonecologists can recognise concepts, explanations and descriptions that, if included in linked economic/ecological models and analyses, would produce an understanding of the problem that would be more consonant with present knowledge of the way ecosystems are structured and function.
Because the remaining two topics are the consequence of social, institutional and economic systems, we will leave those to our economist colleagues in the hope that they, in turn, will educate us in understanding how human dynamics intersect with nature.