Essays on the Recreational Value of Avian Biodiversity
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This dissertation uses a convenience sample of members of eBird, a large citizen science project maintained by the Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology, to explore the value of avian biodiversity to bird watchers. Panel data (i.e. longitudinal data) are highly desirable for preference estimation. Fortuitously, the diaries of birding excursions by eBird members provide a rich source of spatial data on trips taken, over time by the same individuals, to a variety of birding destinations. Origin and destination data can be combined with exogenous species prevalence information. These combined data sources permit estimation of utility-theoretic choice models that allow derivation of the marginal utilities of avian biodiversity measures as well as the marginal utility of net income (i.e. consumption of other goods and services). Ratios of these marginal utilities yield marginal willingness to pay (MWTP) estimates for numbers of bird species (or numbers of species of different types, in richer specifications). MWTP for levels of other attributes of birding destinations are also derived (e.g. ecosystem type, management regime, seasonal variations, a time trend).\\ The chapters are organized as follows: Chapter 2 is a stand-alone paper that demonstrates the feasibility of a travel-cost based random utility model with the eBird data. This chapter focuses on measuring the total number of bird species at each birding hotspot in Washington and Oregon states. This chapter does not differentiate among types of birders beyond using their recent birding activities in an analysis of habit formation or variety-seeking behavior. For this model, beyond past behavior, a representative consumer is postulated. Chapter 3 starts from the basic specifications identified in Chapter 2 and explores heterogeneous preferences among consumers as well as their preferences for species richness and for different categories of birds. This chapter explores whether different types of birds are relatively more attractive to different types of birders (for example, by gender or by age or by neighborhood characteristics and educational attainment). Chapter 4 is an extension of the work in Chapter 3 to explore how changing site attributes in the face of climate change effects birder welfare. This dissertation includes previously unpublished co-authored material.