Ecologists vs. economists: Can’t they just get along?

‘Yes,’ says RIT economist who stresses interdisciplinary research to solve natural resource use, invasive species management and biodiversity conservation problems

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A. Sue Weisler

Amitrajeet Batabyal, the Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics at RIT, recently published an essay collection about invasive species management, biodiversity and the benefits of ecologists and economists working together to solve environmental issues.

For much of his career, Amitrajeet Batabyal has focused his academic research on questions concerning the optimal use and management of natural and environmental resources. His latest research goes a step further and examines how ecologists—who study the relationships between plants, animals and their environments—and economists—who study the ways in which society allocates scarce resources among competing uses—need to work together to solve complex resource management problems that have ecological and economic dimensions.

Dynamic and Stochastic Resource Economics, written by Batabyal, the Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics at Rochester Institute of Technology, is a collection of essays that demonstrates how new techniques from operations research, optimal control and game theory can be used to model and study issues related to the management of invasive species. It also shows how interdisciplinary research that builds on ideas in ecology and economics can shed valuable light on the optimal use and management of natural resources. Topics studied include biodiversity conservation, invasive species management, environmental regulation, and the management of jointly determined ecological-economic systems.

Batabyal cites a fishery as just one example of an ecological-economic system whose study is helped significantly by the use of an interdisciplinary perspective.

“Economists think of a fishery as a renewable resource; it continues to grow over time in accordance with a biological growth function. But the welfare and the long-run sustainability of the fishery depend on forces that are partly ecological and partly economic in nature. Hence, a fishery is an example of a jointly determined ecological-economic system. When looking at the big picture, focusing on the biology and the economics of the system gives us a much better perspective on how to manage scarce resources.”

This compilation of previously published and unpublished essays delves deeply into Batabyal’s research, along with that of several co-authors. He believes his book is a must-read for researchers and graduate students looking to specialize in natural resource and environmental economics as a part of their doctoral degree training.

“It’s important to understand that ecologists and economists cannot exist without the other and therefore must work together to study resource management problems that are of mutual interest,” he said. “Unless you are studying a truly remote island or perhaps Antarctica, most so-called ecosystems have been impacted by human beings. Therefore, these systems are really jointly determined ecological-economic systems. We often hear talk about promoting sustainability. But sustainability, in the context of renewable resources, calls for judicious use that is determined by interdisciplinary studies of the underlying resources.”