Maintaining cooperation in social-ecological systems:

Effective bottom-up management often requires sub-optimal resource use

Abstract

Natural resources are vulnerable to over-exploitation in the absence of effective management. However, norms, enforced by social ostracism, can promote cooperation and increase stock biomass in common-pool resource systems. Unfortunately, the long-term sustainable use of a resource is not assured even if cooperation, maintained by ostracism and aimed at optimizing resource use, exists. Here, using the example of fisheries, we show that for a cooperative to be maintained by ostracism over time, it often must act inefficiently, choosing a ‘second-best’ strategy where the resource is over-harvested to some degree. Those cooperatives that aim for maximum sustainable profit, the “first-best” harvest strategy, are more vulnerable to invasion by independent harvesters, leading to larger declines in the fish population. In contrast, second-best strategies emphasize the resistance to invasion by independent harvesters over maximizing yield or profit. Ultimately, this leads to greater long-run payoffs to the resource users as well as higher resource stock levels. This highlights the value of pragmatism in the design of cooperative institutions for managing natural resources.

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Notes

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    http://www.fao.org/fishery/topic/16601/en

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Acknowledgments

We thank Matthew Burgess, Alessandro Tavoni, Maja Schlüter, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments. The National Science Foundation provided financial support for this work through Dimensions of Biodiversity grant OCE-1046001 and grants GEO-1211972 and EF-1137894. Additional funding was provided by the Nordforsk-funded project Green Growth Based on Marine Resources: Ecological and Socio-Economic Constraints (GreenMAR) and by the Army Research Office Grant W911NF-14-1-0431.

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Correspondence to Andrew R. Tilman.

Appendix: Parameters

Appendix: Parameters

Parameter Description
R Fish stock biomass
f c Fraction of cooperators
r Intrinsic growth rate of fish population
k Carrying capacity of fish
q Catchability of fish
n Number of fishers
e i Effort of strategy i
π i Profit of strategy i
U i Utility of strategy i
p Unit price of fish
w Unit cost of effort
ω(f c ) Ostracism function
h Maximum value of ostracism function
d L Relative effort of independent harvesters
c L Relative effort level of cooperators
S R Slope of resource nullcline
\(S_{f_{c}}\) Slope of strategy nullcline
γ Cost to ostracize an individual

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Tilman, A.R., Watson, J.R. & Levin, S. Maintaining cooperation in social-ecological systems:. Theor Ecol 10, 155–165 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12080-016-0318-8

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Keywords

  • Commons
  • Cooperation
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Fisheries
  • Human behavior
  • Sustainability
  • Coupled natural-human systems
  • Collective action