U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



The Auk 128(1):1–14, 2011


What are the birds worth- what is their actual dollar value to human society? To most of us in the ornithological community, birds are invaluable. But in these times we need more specific rationales to convince policy makers and business leaders to include bird conservation in land-use and development decisions. Over the past two decades, awareness of our dependence on a variety of ecosystem services (natural ecological processes that benefit human society) and of their importance and prevalence has progressed toward the goal of making conservation a mainstream value (Ehrlich and Kennedy 2005, Perrings et al. 2010, Rands et al. 2010, Sodhi and Ehrlich 2010). Building strategies for the protection of ecosystem services into conservation and land-use planning is essentially the promotion of human survival, although many policy makers misinterpret conservation efforts as luxury. Several previous reviews have identified ecosystem services that benefit human society (Costanza et al. 1997, Daily 1997, Pimentel et al. 1997, Sekercioglu 2010). The challenge, however, is to calculate the value of ecosystem services in meaningful and relevant ways that can be used to justify the protection of ecosystem services in land-use recommendations and policy decisions (Daily et al. 2000, 2009). As the case studies below illustrate, recent work on the ecosystem services provided by birds has made good progress toward this goal, but much remains to be done. Our objectives here are to describe the ecosystem services provided by birds, highlight recent steps toward quantifying those services, and, finally, suggest directions for future research. Overall, we emphasize that global efforts to conserve bird populations and sustain avian biodiversity also preserve the diverse ecosystem services provided by birds, thus contributing to human well-being.