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Kolstoe Article Accepted in ‘Ecological Economics’

Dr. Sonja Kolstoe and her co-author Dr. Trudy Ann Cameron have a forthcoming article in Ecological Economics titled “The Non-market Value of Birding Sites and the Marginal Value of Additional Species: Biodiversity in a Random Utility Model of Site Choice by eBird Members.” They use a recreational-destination site choice model and include species richness, the “number of bird species seen,” to measure biodiversity to find the marginal value of an additional bird species at any destination. The study uses citizen science data from eBird, a citizen science project run by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.

The eBird data provides Kolstoe and Cameron with a novel dataset of bird watchers and their trips to address an understudied area in non-market valuation, understanding the value of bird biodiversity to bird watchers. Members of eBird report their birding excursions, to include their destination and the number and species of birds that they observe on each trip. Based on home address information, Kolstoe and Cameron calculate travel costs for each birder for trips to alternative birding hotspots to develop their recreational-destination site choice model. They focused on birding trips taken by eBird members in the Pacific Northwest U.S. (Washington and Oregon states), as this is where the density of eBird members who provided home address information when registering for eBird is highest. In their model, Kolstoe and Cameron allow for seasonal as well as random heterogeneity in the marginal utility per bird species.

A key finding from this research is that for this population of birders, eBird members, the marginal willingness to pay (WTP) for an additional bird species is highest in June when birds are in their mating-season plumage (at more than $3 per species per trip). Kolstoe and Cameron also find that the total WTP for a birding outing also depends on other site attributes to include ecological management regime, the possible presence of endangered bird species, urban/rural location, ecological region and relative congestion/popularity. Additionally, they find that evidence of variety-seeking can also be discerned in birders' destination choices. This is consistent with the fact that many eBird members are “listers” and thus are seeking to maximize how many new bird species they see.

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