Uncertainty can help protect local commons in the face of climate change

Caroline Schill & Juan C. Rocha

Forest to savanna

Regime shifts are large, abrupt and persistence critical transitions in the function and structure of (eco)systems

Coral transitions

Regime shifts are large, abrupt and persistence critical transitions in the function and structure of (eco)systems

  • Regime shifts in marine environments
    • Fisheries collapse
    • Mangroves collapse
    • Coral transitions
    • Coastal eutrophication
    • Hypoxia
  • Potential impacts on society
    • ~50M people depend on small-scale fisheries
    • Mostly in developing countries

How do people behave when facing uncertain thresholds?

Framed field experiment

History of regime shifts

  • 256 fishers groups of 4 players
  • Communication allowed
  • Threshod: 100% probability of climate event
  • Risk: 50% probability
  • Uncertainty: 10-90% probability

Treatment effects

When compared to baseline, people playing ambiguity maintained significantly higher median stock size and spend more rounds above the threshold. When comparing treatmets with uncertainty there was not difference on median extraction, rounds above thresold, or probability of collapse.

Community differences

Community differences in 2nd stage due to depletion cases (44% in B, 25% in D). Groups who did well in stage 1 did better in stage 2: not treatment but possibly learning.

Community differences are likely due to how groups cooperated

Groups facing ambiguous thresholds are likely to sustain higher stock levels compared to groups that are not confronted with any thresholds. Community effects can mitigate or even eliminate effect.

Uncertainty can mask the information feedback between fishing efforts of others and available stock, preventing the erosion of trust and the willingness to cooperate. This can facilitate the maintenance of sustainable use of the local commons in the face of climate change.


  • Communicating potential regime shifts and their consequences at the local level can trigger adaptation
  • How strong seems to depend on the community in question
  • Less focus on determining more precise likelihoods of thresholds but rather focus on identifying what variables have thresholds, and their potential consequences
  • Uncertainty around critical climate-induced thresholds can protect shared resources

Gracias | Tack


email: juan.rocha@su.se
twitter: @juanrocha
slides: juanrocha.se
paper: Preprint comming soon!

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