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The Social Costs of Keystone Species Collapse: Evidence From The Decline of Vultures in India

Eyal Frank, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

Apr 5 2021 | 11:00 am to 12:00 pm PDT Online

Headshot of Eyal Frank
Eyal Frank

Dr. Eyal Frank's work lies at the intersection of economics and conservation and aims to advance our understanding of the social costs of biodiversity losses. He has worked on projects ranging from the labor impacts of spotted owl conservation to the delays in banning trade of threatened species. Come listen to an amazing interdisciplinary talk that explores the loss of a keystone species and the subsequent repercussions for environmental quality and human health!
— Alberto Garcia, Bren School PhD Student


Losses of keystone species that affect environmental quality through their ecosystem interactions can have large effects on social costs. However, crucial parameters for the management of their preservation are often not available. Determining an optimal recovery strategy requires knowing the benefits lost in their absence, defensive expenditures linked to their loss, as well as the direct rehabilitation costs. We study the above in the setting of vultures that serve a major public health role by preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Vulture populations fell in the Indian subcontinent due to the presence of a chemical residue in livestock carrion. The use of the chemical painkiller in livestock animals became widespread after its patent expired and generic versions of the drug made it widely accessible for veterinary uses. Using distribution range maps for the affected vulture species, we compare districts before and after the collapse in vulture populations. We estimate all-cause death rates increased, on average, by six percent in the highly-vulture-suitable districts after vultures nearly went extinct.


Eyal Frank is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He works at the intersection of ecology and economics. His work addresses how do natural inputs, namely animals, contribute to different production functions of interest, and what are the costs, indirect ones in particular, of conservation policies.
Prior to the University of Chicago, Frank was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in Sustainable Development from Columbia University, and earned his M.A. in Economics and B.Sc. in Environmental Sciences and Economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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