Mean Rate of Cooperation at the Individual Level by Treatment Type

By Stefan Carpenter, and Ursula Kreitmair.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Community-based conservation (CBC) is a popular wildlife governance approach in which communities gain some degree of rights in local wildlife and, in turn, are expected to sustainably govern those resources. CBC programs are generally designed for communities to use nonlethal approaches to protect crops and livestock from wildlife while generating income from that wildlife through trophy hunting or photo tourism. Nonlethal prevention, however, is often viewed by community members as less effective than the killing of ‘problem’ wildlife, so community members face a dilemma of whether to act in their own interests (using lethal approaches) or in the interest of the community (using nonlethal approaches).

We investigate the potential impact of two common types of heterogeneity among community members – wealth and risk exposure – on group cooperation within a CBC setting. We designed an experimental “game” to mimic the core incentives community members face when choosing whether to cooperate (i.e., whether to use lethal deterrence) and administered that game to volunteers in a controlled laboratory setting. The use of a laboratory experiment permitted us to eliminate other potential influences and focus exclusively on the effects of risk and wealth heterogeneity on group cooperation (and, by extension, individual decision-making).

We found that, at the group level, the presence of either of the tested heterogeneities alone reduced cooperation but, when both heterogeneities were present, the impact on cooperation varied. ‘Balanced’ groups (where individuals facing a high risk of loss also had high incomes, and vice versa) cooperated less than did homogenous groups (where all participants faced the same risk level and received the same incomes). Conversely, ‘unbalanced’ groups (where those facing a high risk of loss had low incomes, and vice versa) were about as cooperative as homogenous groups.

At the individual level, people in all types of groups were less likely to cooperate as their individual risk of harm increased, but their level of wealth influenced the role of risk in their decision-making. Also, low-income individuals facing a high risk of loss were more likely to cooperate than were high income individuals facing the same high level of risk.     

Our findings suggest the need for policymakers to consider the presence, and potential interaction, of heterogeneities within CBC communities. Our findings should also be explored in the field to determine their applicability across a range of real-world conditions.