Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Dr. Juliana P. Barrett, Dr. Yizao Liu, Dr. Robert M. Ricard

Field of Study

Agricultural and Resource Economics


Master of Science

Open Access

Open Access


There is growing interest amongst the environmental management community to understand the feedback links between human and environmental systems, particularly the way humans value the natural environment and how such valuation affects behavior, choice, and actions. One prominent method for examining these linkages has been to consider the framework of ecosystem services: the naturally-occurring processes, functions, or outputs that are utilized (actively or passively) to produce human well-being. Especially in the context of climate change, ecosystem services can be used to gauge the value humans place on their surrounding environment, given that the supply of ecosystem services is expected to change with climate and because human actions have the potential to exacerbate, mitigate, or enhance the extent of that change.

This study explores the influence ecosystem services and environmental motivations have on how coastal communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia value climate change adaptation plans. Specifically, this study addresses three research questions: (1) Why do Eastern Shore residents care about the environment? (2) What ecosystem services do Eastern Shore residents value? and (3) To what extent does the answer to either of the above questions influence residents’ preferences for climate change adaptation actions (specifically coastal protection measures)?

To assess residents’ preferences, we carried out five focus groups and a 595-household discrete choice, stated preference mail survey. We used a maximum likelihood confirmatory factor analysis to draw out survey respondents’ environmental motivations and a latent class logit model to test for the heterogeneity of preferences and to determine respondents’ marginal utility for attributes of coastal protection plans, including the amount and type of land protected and ecosystem services affected. Our results show that at least two “classes” (or groups) of people with similar preferences live on the Eastern Shore: those that are more inclined towards “alternative coastline protection” (which utilizes a combination of nature-based elements to protect the coastline) and those that are more open to choosing between “alternative” and “conventional coastline protection” (traditional rock or concrete structures built to protect the coastline) depending on the attributes of the coastal protection plan. Moreover, our analysis reveals that our sample is indeed heterogeneous in preferences, with demographic indicators (including environmental motivations and associations with certain organizations), class membership, land type, ecosystem services, and coastline protection type all impacting preferences for climate change adaptation plans.

Major Advisor

Dr. Stephen K. Swallow