Eli Fenichel

Assistant Professor

Research Overview

I have a number of ongoing projects.  My research addresses two interconnected questions.  First, how do forward looking human decisions and ecological dynamics feedback, and what does this mean for management of ecological systems?  Second, how can we think about natural resources as forms of capital, and how do move this thinking from a metaphor that is useful for guiding intertemporal management to broader application so that natural capital interfaces smoothly with traditional forms of capital?


Current Projects

1.         Valuing natural capital - with generous support from the Knobloch Family Foundation

The earliest economists thought about natural resources, such as land and forests, as capital assets.  This means that nature should be accounted for in a similar fashion as financial assets (e.g., stocks and bonds), real assets (e.g., real estate and machines), and human assets (e.g., knowledge and health). Over the past few decades the idea that nature is capital has expanded beyond economic theory. However, most natural capital, such as fish, wildlife, water, air, and forests, remains unaccounted (or mis-accounted) for in national and other public accounts like GDP.  Valuing natural capital is essential for reforming national accounts and developing other measures of social progress and sustainability. Valuing natural capital provides an approach to inform local resource management, by providing the value of conservation of natural resources to compare to the benefits of their consumption. The idea of natural capital has remained restricted to a useful metaphor despite the number of efforts underway to measure ecosystem services (the benefits people gain in terms of material, recreation, and cultural benefits from nature) and to map natural resources to understand the spatial distribution of “natural capital.” We are working to move natural capital from a useful metaphor to a measurable, actionable concept with support from the Knobloch Family Foundation. To date, we have recovered the natural capital value for fish in the Gulf of Mexico and shown how their value jumped with the recent shift towards a tradable quota system.

For our practical approach forward see:



(colleague Josh Abbott) http://vimeo.com/97786830 and http://www.azpbs.org/arizonahorizon/detailvid.php?id=15021  

2.       Adaptive human behavior and the spread of infectious diseases - support from NSF & NIH  

This work, funded by the NIH and the NSF, investigates how people respond to epidemics and how these responses shape the nature of epidemics.  This work involves theoretical modeling and empirical work. For some examples of my work in this area see:






3.       Linkages between locusts, livestock management, nitrogen cycling, and markets - support from NSF 

This project, supported by the NSF, investigates how ecological dynamics link the decisions people make over space and time.  Locusts are a major concern for food security in many places in the world. Livestock management may influence local locust outbreaks and migratory locust plagues.  We are trying to figure out how this couple system works.  For more information see:




4.       Incentivizing land-uses that generate ecosystem services with a focus on water provision in the Panama Canal - support from NSF

This work focuses on incentives for engagement in forestry in the Panama Canal Watershed.  A key question for developing ecosystem service incentives is, how does natural capital interface with other traditional forms of capital?  Furthermore, how can hydrologic models be used to inform the targeting of land use incentives? Collaborators and I are starting to untangle this question with support from the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Fund and support from NSF. 


5.         Adaptations of fish and fishing communities to rapid climate change - support from NSF 

Global climate change will profoundly reshape coastal systems and substantially impact the food, energy, recreational opportunities, and other goods and services provided by coastal ecosystems. The impacts associated with the human responses to climate change are likely to rival the direct effects of climate change. Understanding feedbacks among climate, human actions, and ecosystems is imperative to sustainability. Fishing communities in particular are tightly coupled with marine species, since they rely on links to the ecosystem for their livelihoods and cultural identity. With support from NSF, we seek to understand how climate change and fishing interact to affect the long-term sustainability of marine populations and the ecosystem services they support.




Prior Projects

Management of recreational fisheries. This work, previously supported by NOAA, takes on some of the unique challenges of common pool resources that do not have direct market links because they provide cultural rather than provisioning ecosystem services. Some examples of my work in this area can be found at:






The Economics of Asian Citrus Pyslid (ACP) and Citrus Greening

Citrus Greening is devastating the US Citrus industry.  With support from USDA we investigated how individuals responded to ACP spread, the insect that vectors citrus greening.  Core results were that foreclosures in California seemed to have aided spread of this horrific agricultural pest


and that there are potential positive feedbacks when one individual controls the spread of the pest, it can provide incentives for others to do the same.