The economic benefits of aquatic plants are often overlooked. Yet, they are real, and many ways to measure them. We need to consider nonuse values and ecosystem service values. Also, we need to consider historical management costs. Missing data and sensitivity to environmental change must be considered.
Ecosystem Service Values
People benefit from aquatic plants in a variety of ways. Examples are food, drinking water, timber, and esthetic qualities such as pollination. They also produce necessary items such as medicinal plants. They can also be used for recreation. For these reasons, it is imperative to preserve aquatic ecosystems. Currently, research is underway to better understand the economic benefits of aquatic plants. This is an essential step in promoting sustainable aquatic vegetation management.
The economic value of ecosystem services has largely remained untapped in the past, despite its importance. According to a recent report by Robert Costanza, a Distinguished University Professor of Sustainability at Portland State University, the economic value of ecosystem services worldwide is $33 trillion per year or 44 trillion dollars in today’s dollars. This value is twice as significant as the global GNP, estimated at $18 trillion. The report was widely praised for focusing on the economic value of ecosystem services.
Although considerable progress has been made in assessing the economic value of aquatic ecosystems, more research is needed to document their potential. The report notes that aquatic ecosystems can provide habitat, consumable resources, and environmental regulation. However, there still needs to be more agreement about how to value these services. Further research is needed to determine the spatial thresholds of significance that enable ecosystem service values to be assigned.
Nonuse values are essential in measuring environmental benefits and are often not directly measured by humans. These values are not related to the direct use of the resource but to the benefits of future generations. In essence, these values are associated with a sense of well-being. They also relate to future generations’ access to resources and opportunities.
There are two types of nonuse values for aquatic plants. The first is a quantitative value for the species. The second is a subjective value. This value can be positive or negative depending on the specific situation. Currently, the nonuse value for channel darters is estimated at $79.8 million per year. If the species were listed as Endangered, it would be worth $97.3 million a year. If the species were listed as Special Concern, the nonuse value would be $98.8 million annually. Similarly, nonuse values are estimated at $97.3 million a year for the pug nose shiner.
In 2011 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) commissioned choice experiment surveys in southern Ontario to quantify nonuse values of aquatic species. The purpose was to test the feasibility of guild-level research that could value individual species. Ecosystem service valuation is increasingly recognized as a critical need for conservation science research.
Historical Management Costs
Historical management costs of aquatic plants in Louisiana have been compiled using spending data from the USACE New Orleans and Mobile districts’ aquatic growth programs and the USACE Aquatic Plant Control Research Program. Missing values were estimated using interpolation so as not to overestimate spending levels. The estimates are adjusted for inflation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the data should not be considered final. More research is needed to understand the actual costs of aquatic plant management.
The costs of biological control development are often overestimated due to the large scale involved in rearing and releasing the agents. In addition, herbicide costs are overestimated by about five to ten percent, mainly because funds for these programs are targeted to other plants during some years.
The costs of management of water hyacinths in Louisiana are estimated at $13,000 to $23,000 per marina annually. Invasive aquatic plants in Louisiana can affect up to 400 marinas. Therefore, the cost of controlling these plants should be considered in determining the best management strategy for the water body.
A growing body of research shows that aquatic plants produce significant economic benefits for local communities. These benefits are often quantified using metrics such as yield per acre and nutrient use efficiency. However, these metrics do not include the impact of other factors, such as climate, water quality, or other human factors. Moreover, there needs to be more data on whether aquatic plants can be used for water reclamation.
One solution to this problem is to collect more data about species’ productivity, such as the amount of biomass and energy they can capture. This type of study is particularly relevant in areas with limited resources. These results suggest that species-specific abundances play a crucial role in influencing productivity. This could be due to differences in the number of nutrients available to the plants.
Invasive species can reduce recreational opportunities, particularly if they crowd out native species. For instance, the Eurasian watermilfoil crowds out native species, which decreases recreational opportunities.