Species and varieties

Species (including crop varieties, animal breeds) provide both use and nonuse biodiversity values (Randall, 2001). Species can be grouped into those that are known and utilized, those that are known but not utilized, and those that are unknown.

2.1.1. Species that are utilized

By definition, these have a use value, although frequently this value is nonmonetary. This category includes species of plants and animals that are utilized in the production of food, fiber, oils, etc. It includes non-harvested species essential for agricultural production such as soil micro-biota, pollinators, etc., as well as harvested species such as crops and livestock. Wild relatives of domesticated varieties may also fall into this category, as they are frequently an important source of value to rural populations. These species and varieties provide the basis for biological production systems—e.g., the basis of food and agricultural production. They also constitute a storehouse of genes, which enables the development of technologies that allow for increased yields, overcoming disease, adjustment to adverse conditions, etc.

The continued collection of species and varieties and the documentation of their properties have become even more valuable with the development of biotechnology, which allows for transgenic species and variety development. Secondly, biotechnology can identify desirable properties of organisms that may lead to innovations that will benefit a wide array of species.

2.1.2 Known but not utilized species

Many of the species that are documented or cataloged are not a source of economic benefit, and most are not likely to be commercially utilized. Besides their important intrinsic value, some species have the potential to be sources of significant economic benefit in the future, and others may have genetic structures that will be beneficial. Thus, species in this category may have significant option values. However, since conservation is a costly activity, and the number of known species is substantial, not all species will be preserved, especially when the cost of preservation significantly outweighs the benefit. Weitzman (1998) proposed a framework for assessing these trade-offs, in which priorities for species conservation are derived from a formula that includes the distinctness of the species, the utility of the species in terms of value to humans, the degree to which the species' potential for survival is enhanced by conservation activities, and the costs associated with the conservation.

2.1.3 Unknown species

Most species are not known, and they may hold many surprises in years to come. The uncertainty regarding unknown species is such that their current market value cannot be estimated. However, from a social perspective, it is worthwhile to invest resources both in their preservation and in discovering and documenting their properties. One of the biggest challenges is how to target conservation activities to bio-resources with the highest potential benefits given the degree of uncertainty about their value. Diamond (1997) argues that only a minute fraction of all the species in the world have been domesticated and, while domesticated species are crucial to our civilization, their close relatives may have genetic content that provides protection against disease and which can improve the performance of agricultural crops.

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