Biodiversity: Values

Authored by: David Ehrenfeld

Terrestrial Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Print publication date:  June  2020
Online publication date:  May  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138333918
eBook ISBN: 9780429445651
Adobe ISBN:


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Biodiversity has been valued in many ways, depending on the perspective of the person who is doing the valuing. Those who understand biodiversity as “nature” or “wilderness” may find different values than others who see biodiversity as “resources” or yet others who define it scientifically in terms of “genetic or ecological richness.” The values that emerge from these very different viewpoints can be grouped into two broad categories: intrinsic and instrumental, which can overlap. Intrinsic values are those that are thought to be inherent in the species or species assemblages themselves. They are derived from a higher authority, either God or an ethical system (such as animal rights), and do not depend on any usefulness of the species to humans. Instrumental values are those that are derived from usefulness. Species are prized for providing food, shelter, clothing, medicine, recreation, transport, energy, or in the case of species assemblages, ecosystem resilience. Since the start of the conservation movement, and with the rise of the environmental sciences, instrumental values, especially the ones concerning ecosystem resilience, have gained in relative importance, and their proponents have sometimes battled with those who advocate the protection of biodiversity for its own sake. Ultimately, however, the two value systems do not necessarily have to clash.

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