Choosing ecosystem service investments that are robust to uncertainty across multiple parameters

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: D. S. Schimel.

Abstract

Info-gap decision theory facilitates decision making for problems in which uncertainty is large and probability distributions of uncertain variables are unknown. The info-gap framework allows the decision maker to maximize robustness to failure in the presence of uncertainty, where uncertainty is in the parameters of the model and failure is defined as the model output falling below some minimally acceptable performance threshold. Info-gap theory has found particular application to problems in conservation biology and ecological economics. In this study, we applied info-gap theory to an ecosystem services trade-off case study in which a decision maker aiming to maximize ecosystem service investment returns must choose between two alternative land uses: native vegetation conservation or the establishment of an exotic timber plantation. The uncertain variables are the carbon price and the water price. With a “no-information” uncertainty model that assumes equal relative uncertainty across both variables, info-gap theory identifies a minimally acceptable reward threshold above which conservation is preferred, but below which plantation establishment is preferred. However, with an uncertainty model that allows the carbon price to be substantially more uncertain than the water price, conservation of native vegetation becomes an economically more robust investment option than establishing alien pine plantations. We explored the sensitivity of the results to the use of alternative uncertainty models, including asymmetric uncertainty in individual variables. We emphasize the general finding that the results of info-gap analyses can be sensitive to the choice of uncertainty model and that, therefore, future applications to ecological problems should be careful to incorporate all available qualitative and quantitative information relating to uncertainties or should at least justify the no-information uncertainty model.

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