Shared questions, divergent histories, and joint importance to pressing challenges drive synergy between ecology and economics
Collaboration and exchange between the ecology and economics disciplines has grown significantly over the past several decades, but important opportunities remain for two reasons. First, society faces many sustainability challenges that require insights from both disciplines to find solutions. Second, many areas of ecology and economics ask similar questions, often using different language and tools. The analytical toolkits of ecology and economics are quite complementary as a result of their divergent histories as disciplines. Significant and largely untapped opportunities for intellectual arbitrage exist as a result – where concepts, considerations, or tools from one discipline could provide new insights or improve approaches in the other. As an introduction to the symposium, we present a broad overview of some of the promising avenues for future collaboration between ecologists and economists, in both traditionally disciplinary and already interdisciplinary research areas.
A pressing and fundamental sustainability challenge is meeting rapidly rising human demands for food, water, energy and other resources, without inflicting catastrophic environmental damage. A diversity of ecological research has identified important opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of food, water and energy consumption. Proposed solutions include agricultural intensification, increasing water and energy-use efficiency, dietary change, rebuilding fisheries, and expanding use of renewable energy technologies. But which policies or institutions will support or provide incentives for such changes? Many of the tools of economics and other social sciences are aimed at this type of question. We discuss some recent policy successes in climate change and in fisheries, highlighting the important roles played by collaborative research at the ecology-economics interface and lessons that might apply to other sustainability challenges. We then highlight some recent examples of methodological and conceptual exchanges in traditionally disciplinary areas, including applications of ecological complexity, stability, and diversity theories to macroeconomics; applications of econometric tools to ecological studies in situ; and others. We close by proposing future exchanges between ecology and economics, in both research and education.