Maintaining cooperation in social-ecological systems:: Effective bottom-up management often requires sub-optimal resource use

Andrew R. Tilman, James R. Watson, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Volume10
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling

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