Seemingly intangible ecosystem characteristics that preoccupy ecologists, like ecosystem stability and the responsiveness of populations to environmental variation, have quantifiable economic values. We show how to derive these values, and how their consideration should change environmental decision making. To illustrate these concepts, we use a simple reserve design model. When resource managers choose a particular landscape configuration, their decision affects both the mean abundance of species and the temporal variation in abundances. Population stability and related phenomena have economic value, because management actions affect the variance of ecosystem components. In our example, a larger reserve size is recommended when accounting for the stability of the managed ecosystem.
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