RIT Economics Professor Wins USDA Grant to Study Invasive Species




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Economic damages from invasive or non-native species such as zebra mussels or the Northern Snakehead can cost millions of dollars. Regulating the influx of invasive species that enter the U.S. hidden in the ballast waters of ships is a problem Rochester Institute of Technology economics professor Amit Batabyal is trying to understand with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Batabyal, Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts, recently won a $74,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture's Program of Research on the Economics of Invasive Species Management to apply economic theories to the problem of invasive species management.

Batabyal hopes to derive a fresh perspective from queuing theory, the mathematical analysis of waiting lines. He will use it to focus on inspectors and ships entering U.S. ports. According to Batabyal, no one before has applied this theory to invasive species management problems.

Queuing theory will give Batabyal a framework in which to understand different scenarios, such as:

  • The optimal number of inspectors needed to adequately check the ballast water of ships entering ports
  • How many ships should be allowed in a particular port at one time
  • The economic cost of making ships wait to be inspected versus the potential cost of a biological invasion if ships are not inspected or inadequately checked

“Queuing theory has many real world applications in areas where the USDA is encouraging research,” Batabyal says. “Queuing theory provides researchers with tools for modeling uncertainty. That's precisely what is needed because many real world problems such as the management of invasive species involve decision making under uncertainty.”

As part of the project, Batabyal also will explore the problem of invasive species management using the theory of stochastic control and the economic theory of incentives, or mechanism design, to analyze the many aspects of the management issue.

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