Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
Predictive environmental understanding

Using Quasi-Experimental Methods to Study the Economic Benefits of Well-Functioning Ecosystems

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Dr. Eyal Frank
University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
Thursday, October 28, 2021
12:00 P.M. CDT
Virtual – Please contact Leroy Walston to register.

This seminar will highlight the challenge of establishing the causal effects of biodiversity losses, and how quasi-experimental methods allow us to approximate those estimates of interest. Examples from research will demonstrate how those techniques can be used, what assumptions are needed, and the potential pitfalls of using such methods.

Examples include (i) how declines in insectivorous bats in the U.S. led to higher insecticide use; (ii) how the collapse of vultures in India resulted in higher human death rates; (iii) how reducing insecticide spraying allowed farmers in Vietnam to preserve natural enemies of rice crops pests and improve infant health; (iv) how the reintroduction of the gray wolf in the U.S. is reducing animal-related vehicle collisions; and (v) how the 1958 to 1960 campaign to eradicate sparrows in China contributed to lower agricultural productivity.

The goal is to establish what social scientists mean when they refer to “natural experiments” and what type of questions, in particular, environmental economists who study conservation and biodiversity are trying to answer.


Dr. Eyal Frank is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. As an environmental economist, he works at the intersection of ecology and economics. His work addresses three broad questions: (i) how do natural inputs, namely animals, contribute to different production functions of interest, (ii) how do market dynamics reduce natural habitats and lead to declining wildlife population levels, and (iii) what are the costs, indirect ones in particular, of conservation policies.

These areas of research present a causal inference challenge, as manipulating ecosystems and species at large scales is often infeasible. In his work, Frank draws natural experiments from ecology and policy, and uses econometric techniques to estimate different pieces of the puzzle regarding the social cost of biodiversity losses.

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.

portrait of Leroy Walston