Critics of the market-based, ecosystem services approach to biodiversity conservation worry that volatile market conditions and technological substitutes will diminish the value of ecosystem services and obviate the "economic benefits" arguments for conservation. To explore the effects of market forces and substitutes on service values, we assessed how the value of the pest-control services provided by Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana) to cotton production in the southwestern U.S. has changed over time. We calculated service values each year from 1990 through 2008 by estimating the value of avoided crop damage and the reduced social and private costs of insecticide use in the presence of bats. Over this period, the ecosystem service value declined by 79% ($19.09 million U.S. dollars) due to the introduction and widespread adoption of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton transgenically modified to express its own pesticide, falling global cotton prices and the reduction in the number of hectares in the U.S. planted with cotton. Our results demonstrate that fluctuations in market conditions can cause temporal variation in ecosystem service values even when ecosystem function - in this case bat population numbers - is held constant. Evidence is accumulating, however, of the evolution of pest resistance to Bt cotton, suggesting that the value of bat pest-control services may increase again. This gives rise to an economic option value argument for conserving Mexican free-tailed bat populations. We anticipate that these results will spur discussion about the role of ecosystem services in biodiversity conservation in general, and bat conservation in particular.
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