"An Economist for Nature Calculates the Need for More Protection"

A Stanford professor is showing how many more ecological costs need to be factored in to estimates of the economic impacts of environmental actions.

"COTO BRUS, Costa Rica — Dawn is breaking over this remote upland region, where neat rows of coffee plants cover many of the hillsides. The rising tropical sun saturates the landscape with color, revealing islandlike remnants of native forest scattered among the coffee plantations.

But across this bucolic countryside, trouble is brewing. An invasive African insect known as the coffee berry borer is threatening the area’s crops. Local farmers call the pest “la broca”: the borer.

Despite the early hour, Gretchen Daily, a Stanford University biology professor, is already at work studying this complex ecosystem. Amid a cacophony of birdsong, Dr. Daily and her team are conducting experiments that demonstrate the vital connection between wildlife and native vegetation. Preliminary data from new studies suggest that consumption of insects like la broca by forest-dwelling birds and bats contribute significantly to coffee yields.

Since 1991, Dr. Daily, 46, has made frequent trips to this Costa Rican site to conduct one of the tropics’ most comprehensive population-level studies to monitor long-term ecological change."

John Moir reports for the New York Times August 8, 2011.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011