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Human Behaviour in Social-Ecological Systems: Insights from economic experiments and agent-based modelling
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7628-4829
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Progress towards sustainability requires changes in our individual and collective behaviour. Yet, our fundamental understanding of behaviour in relation to environmental change remains severely limited. In particular, little attention has been given to how individual and collective behaviours respond to, and are shaped by, non-linear environmental change (such as ‘regime shifts’) and its inherent uncertainties. The thesis makes two main contributions to the literature: 1) it provides one of the first accounts of human behaviour and collective action in relation to ecological regime shifts and associated uncertainties; and 2) extends the incipient behavioural common-pool resource literature that acknowledges social-ecological dynamics and ecological complexity. The overarching aim of this thesis is to further advance an empirically grounded understanding of human behaviour in social-ecological systems. In particular, the thesis attempts to unravel critical social-ecological factors and mechanisms for the sustainability of common-pool resources. This is especially relevant for contexts in which livelihoods can be more directly threatened by regime shifts. The following methods are applied: behavioural economic experiments in the lab (with students; Papers I and II) and in the field (with small-scale fishers from four different communities in the Colombian Caribbean; Paper III), and agent-based modelling empirically informed by a subset of the lab experiments (Paper IV). Paper I tests the effect of an endogenously driven regime shift on the emergence of cooperation and sustainable resource use. Paper II tests the effect of different risk levels of such a regime shift. The regime shift in both papers has negative consequences for the productivity of the shared resource. Paper III assesses the effect of different degrees of uncertainty about a climate-induced threshold in stock dynamics on the exploitation patterns; as well as the role of social and ecological local context. Paper IV explores critical individual-level factors and processes affecting the simultaneous emergence of collective action and sustainable resource use. Results cumulatively suggest that existing scientific knowledge indicating the potential for ecological regime shifts should be communicated to affected local communities, including the remaining uncertainties, as this information can encourage collective action for sustainable resource use. Results also highlight the critical role of ecological knowledge, knowledge-sharing, perceived ecological uncertainties, and the role local contexts play for sustainable outcomes. This thesis enriches the literature on social-ecological systems by demonstrating how a behavioural experimental approach can contribute new insights relevant for sustainability. Overall, these insights indicate that, given the opportunity and the willingness of people to come together, share knowledge, exchange ideas, and build trust, potential ecological crises can encourage collective action, and uncertainties can be turned into opportunities for dealing with change in constructive ways. This provides a hopeful outlook in the face of escalating environmental change and inherent uncertainties.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University , 2017. , p. 81
Keywords [en]
Human behaviour, Common-pool resources, Ecological complexity, Collective action, Sustainable resource use, Regime shifts, Thresholds, Uncertainty, Communication, Knowledge-sharing, Economic experiments, Laboratory and field experiments, Agent-based modelling, Complex adaptive systems, Social-ecological systems
National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-141696ISBN: 978-91-7649-760-9 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7649-761-6 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-141696DiVA, id: diva2:1088921
Public defence
2017-05-17, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-04-24 Created: 2017-04-18 Last updated: 2018-01-13Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Potential Disasters can Turn the Tragedy into Success
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Potential Disasters can Turn the Tragedy into Success
2016 (English)In: Environmental and Resource Economics, ISSN 0924-6460, E-ISSN 1573-1502, Vol. 65, no 3, p. 657-676Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This paper presents a novel experimental design that allows testing how users of a common-pool resource respond to an endogenously driven drastic drop in the supply of the resource. We show that user groups will manage a resource more efficiently when confronted with such a non-concave resource growth function, compared to groups facing a logistic growth function. Even among cooperative groups there is a significant behavioral difference, although theory predicts there should not be. We argue that effectiveness of communication is endogenous to the problem; the threat of reaching a critical tipping point, beyond which the growth rate will drop drastically, triggers more effective communication within the group, enabling stronger commitment for cooperation and more knowledge sharing, which together explains the results. We argue that the insights generated by this study can be seen as one of many, but nevertheless important, contributions towards an increased understanding of the interactions between human behavior and the environment in common-pool resource systems.

Keywords
Common-pool resources, Laboratory experiments, User behavior, Renewable resources, Thresholds, Non-concave dynamics
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-141186 (URN)10.1007/s10640-016-0043-1 (DOI)000387402700008 ()
Available from: 2017-04-03 Created: 2017-04-03 Last updated: 2018-01-24Bibliographically approved
2. Collective action and the risk of ecosystem regime shifts: insights from a laboratory experiment
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Collective action and the risk of ecosystem regime shifts: insights from a laboratory experiment
2015 (English)In: Ecology & society, ISSN 1708-3087, E-ISSN 1708-3087, Vol. 20, no 1, article id 48Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Ecosystems can undergo regime shifts that potentially lead to a substantial decrease in the availability of provisioning ecosystem services. Recent research suggests that the frequency and intensity of regime shifts increase with growing anthropogenic pressure, so understanding the underlying social-ecological dynamics is crucial, particularly in contexts where livelihoods depend heavily on local ecosystem services. In such settings, ecosystem services are often derived from common-pool resources. The limited capacity to predict regime shifts is a major challenge for common-pool resource management, as well as for systematic empirical analysis of individual and group behavior, because of the need for extensive preshift and postshift data. Unsurprisingly, current knowledge is mostly based on theoretical models. We examine behavioral group responses to a latent endogenously driven regime shift in a laboratory experiment. If the group exploited the common-pool resource beyond a certain threshold level, its renewal rate dropped drastically. To determine how the risk of such a latent shift affects resource management and collective action, we compared four experimental treatments in which groups were faced with a latent shift with different probability levels (0.1, 0.5, 0.9, 1.0). Our results suggest that different probability levels do not make people more or less likely to exploit the resource beyond its critical potential threshold. However, when the likelihood of the latent shift is certain or high, people appear more prone to agree initially on a common exploitation strategy, which in turn is a predictor for averting the latent shift. Moreover, risk appears to have a positive effect on collective action, but the magnitude of this effect is influenced by how risk and probabilities are communicated and perceived.

Keywords
common-pool resources, cooperation, ecological dynamics, laboratory experiments, regime shifts, risk, social-ecological systems, thresholds, uncertainty
National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Economics
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-117406 (URN)10.5751/ES-07318-200148 (DOI)000353293900057 ()
Note

AuthorCount:3;

Available from: 2015-05-29 Created: 2015-05-19 Last updated: 2018-01-26Bibliographically approved
3. Uncertainty can help protect the commons in the face of climate change
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Uncertainty can help protect the commons in the face of climate change
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Environmental Sciences Economics Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-141187 (URN)
Available from: 2017-04-03 Created: 2017-04-03 Last updated: 2018-01-26Bibliographically approved
4. Cooperation Is Not Enough - Exploring Social-Ecological Micro-Foundations for Sustainable Common-Pool Resource Use
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Cooperation Is Not Enough - Exploring Social-Ecological Micro-Foundations for Sustainable Common-Pool Resource Use
2016 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 11, no 8, article id e0157796Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Cooperation amongst resource users holds the key to overcoming the social dilemma that characterizes community-based common-pool resource management. But is cooperation alone enough to achieve sustainable resource use? The short answer is no. Developing management strategies in a complex social-ecological environment also requires ecological knowledge and approaches to deal with perceived environmental uncertainty. Recent behavioral experimental research indicates variation in the degree to which a group of users can identify a sustainable exploitation level. In this paper, we identify social-ecological micro-foundations that facilitate cooperative sustainable common-pool resource use. We do so by using an agent-based model (ABM) that is informed by behavioral common-pool resource experiments. In these experiments, groups that cooperate do not necessarily manage the resource sustainably, but also over- or underexploit. By reproducing the patterns of the behavioral experiments in a qualitative way, the ABM represents a social-ecological explanation for the experimental observations. We find that the ecological knowledge of each group member cannot sufficiently explain the relationship between cooperation and sustainable resource use. Instead, the development of a sustainable exploitation level depends on the distribution of ecological knowledge among the group members, their influence on each other's knowledge, and the environmental uncertainty the individuals perceive. The study provides insights about critical social-ecological micro-foundations underpinning collective action and sustainable resource management. These insights may inform policy-making, but also point to future research needs regarding the mechanisms of social learning, the development of shared management strategies and the interplay of social and ecological uncertainty.

National Category
Biological Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-135102 (URN)10.1371/journal.pone.0157796 (DOI)000382258100002 ()
Available from: 2016-11-22 Created: 2016-10-31 Last updated: 2018-01-26Bibliographically approved

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