The evolution of social norms for renewable resource exploitation

Mathematical and Statistical Methods Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Andries Richter

Andries Richter

Many case studies have shown that local communities are capable of managing natural renewable resources like fish, forests or grazing lands in a highly sustainable and profitable way by making informal agreements on the managing strategies. There are, however, situations in which these rules break down or do not evolve in the first place, leading to a situation often referred to as a tragedy of the commons. Many field studies indicate that social norms play a key role in this process. This research will take this factor into account explicitly by defining social norms as a rule of how to behave in a certain situation. Besides, there is no guarantee that the established norm will be the most efficient one, since once established, norms are very hard to replace. Therefore, social norms are an example par excellence for frequency-dependent selection. While evolutionary game theory is the most prominent method for explaining the evolution of harvesting rules, it has important limitations. These shortcomings can be overcome by using methods from the field of adaptive dynamics instead. This approach is appealing, as social norms can be, analogously to function-valued traits, defined as rules of behaviour. Besides, non-linear fitness functions can explain why certain norms that seem to be rather ineffective are not always replaced by more efficient ones. A model will be developed, in which agents will base their decisions on (i) monetary profits, (ii) actions of other agents, (iii) and the state of the resource. Social norms will be the mapping that translates this information into actions.

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Last edited: 25 March 2016

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