Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Overcoming the 'tragedy of the commons': Conditonal cooperation helps in forest preservation

Date:
November 13, 2010
Source:
Goethe University Frankfurt
Summary:
According to the standard prediction large-scale cooperation in the management of commons is impossible, mainly because of free-riders. Yet, extensive field evidence indicates that many communities are able to manage their commons. Now an analysis of a major forest commons management program in Ethiopia provides first-time evidence that conditional cooperation which has been identified in many laboratory experiments before plays a key role.

Village against a mountain in Ethiopia.
Credit: iStockphoto/Frank Van Den Bergh

Many imminent problems facing the world today, such as deforestation, overfishing, or climate change, can be described as 'commons problems.' The solution to these problems requires cooperation from hundreds and thousands of people. Such large scale cooperation, however, is plagued by the infamous cooperation dilemma. According to the standard prediction, in which each individual follows only his own interests, large-scale cooperation is impossible because free-riders enjoy common benefits without bearing the cost of their provision. Yet, extensive field evidence indicates that many communities are able to manage their commons, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Related Articles


How do we explain this variation in management outcomes? How do different levels of cooperation emerge and what contributes to their success? The economist Prof. Michael Kosfeld examined these questions together with his colleagues Devesh Rustagi and Prof. Stefanie Engel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. The answer: The degree of voluntary cooperation together with the monitoring of free-riders plays a key role in the success of commons management.

In their field study, details of which are published in the November 12 issue of the journal Science, the researchers analyzed a major forest commons management program launched to save the biodiversity rich Afro-montane ecosystem and the livelihood of the Bale Oromo pastoralists in Ethiopia. The team was particularly interested in the degree of conditional cooperation in a group. This means that group members are willing to cooperate voluntarily provided that others cooperate as well. Numerous behavioral experiments with student participants have shown that conditional cooperation plays a significant role in solving the dilemma of cooperation. However, so far no evidence exists which corroborates the relevance of conditional cooperation in the field with actual commons users. The researchers' objective was to provide exactly this evidence.

The economists conducted behavioral cooperation-experiments with 679 members from 49 different forest user groups in which they elicited the group members' willingness to cooperate voluntarily. They found that groups differ widely in their share of conditional cooperators, from 0 % to 88 %. In groups with lower share of conditional cooperators, free-rider share was high. To examine how this impacts forest management success, the team ran a variety of statistical analyses which showed that groups with larger share of conditional cooperators were much more successful in managing their forests. The success of a group was determined by the number of trees of intermediate height per hectare. Trees of this kind are vital for the sustainable growth of the forest.

But why are groups with larger share of conditional cooperators more successful at forest management? To entangle this puzzle, the trio looked at the time spent by group members in monitoring their forest. They found that groups with higher share of conditional cooperators not only cooperate more but also monitor more by conducting patrols through the forest. Such patrols are important for the detection and deterrence of free-riding. A group with 60 % conditional cooperators was likely to spend on average 14 hours more per month in monitoring than a group without any conditional cooperators. Devesh Rustagi, a post-doc at the Institute for Environmental Decisions, says "this finding is interesting, as it shows that conditional cooperators are willing to spend resources to detect individuals who free-ride at their expense. It provides a behavioral link in explaining monitoring as a success mechanism in commons management."

"The results of our study provide first-time evidence that conditional cooperation which has been identified in many laboratory experiments before plays a key role in a concrete case of commons management in the field," explains Michael Kosfeld, Director of the Frankfurt Laboratory of Experimental Economics at Goethe-University. "Our findings fill a long-standing gap between field and laboratory studies on human cooperation."

The results also shed light on the evolution of human cooperation. They show a positive co-variation between conditional cooperation and costly monitoring. This is in line with the theory of gene-culture evolution, which predicts higher cooperation in groups where enforcement of cooperation is prevalent.

"The results yield important policy implications for the governance of human collective action," explains Rustagi. "Because humans differ in their motivation to cooperate, an effective solution to commons problems should not be based on incentives for purely self-regarding individuals alone but needs to explicitly take into account the complex interplay of heterogeneous motivations and behavioral norms to cooperate voluntarily."

Prof. Stefanie Engel from the Institute for Environmental Decisions at ETH Zurich concludes: "Given that the UN has declared 2010 as the year of biodiversity and 2011 the year of forests, the results may in fact open new doors to find solutions to commons problems, which house nearly 18% of the world's forests and a large share of biodiversity."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Goethe University Frankfurt. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Devesh Rustagi, Stefanie Engel, and Michael Kosfeld. Conditional Cooperation and Costly Monitoring Explain Success in Forest Commons Management. Science, 12 November 2010 330: 961-965 DOI: 10.1126/science.1193649

Cite This Page:

Goethe University Frankfurt. "Overcoming the 'tragedy of the commons': Conditonal cooperation helps in forest preservation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141808.htm>.
Goethe University Frankfurt. (2010, November 13). Overcoming the 'tragedy of the commons': Conditonal cooperation helps in forest preservation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141808.htm
Goethe University Frankfurt. "Overcoming the 'tragedy of the commons': Conditonal cooperation helps in forest preservation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141808.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins