This is a primary objective of many conservation efforts. Under this objective, the focus is usually on preserving genetic diversity. As Weitzman (1998) argues, species may be perceived as carriers of genes; thus, preservation activities should emphasize maintaining the broadest base of genetic combinations possible. One way to evaluate a species or variety under this criterion is to evaluate their genetic uniqueness and relative distance from others. From this perspective, species that have close substitutes may be less valuable than those that are genetically unique. However, from another perspective, the value of genetic material is derived from the products that they generate. In the case of agricultural biodiversity, preserving closely substitutable varieties may be valuable because some of the genes that distinguish varieties may have a unique value in controlling diseases or improving food quality.
Knowledge is also an important aspect of conservation programs focused on the option value of biodiversity. Human knowledge is necessary for the identification of useful phenotypic and genetic characteristics of species, as well as for their development into new and useful varieties and breeds. The knowledge required is both science-based knowledge on species characterization and breeding, as well as the knowledge of local communities on the identification and use of species under varying types of environmental interactions. Modern crop varieties developed for monocultural agricultural systems rely on a subset of genetic material that is especially valuable under current technological conditions and under good production conditions. However, future improvements in cultivation practices may reduce the cost of adopting more diverse systems of production, and changes in climatic conditions and/or preferences may require modification of crops and cropping systems. However, future improvements in cultivation practices may reduce the cost of multicropping, and changes in climatic conditions and/or preferences may require modification of crops and cropping systems. The capacity to modify production systems will depend on the availability of the genetic material, as well as knowledge regarding interaction among crops, nondomesticated species, and ecosystems.
Benefits derived through the preservation of knowledge for the development of future varieties and breeds will be realized through product improvement cost reduction to both consumers and producers.
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