Cooperation in the face of thresholds, risk, and uncertainty

Juan Rocha, Caroline Schill, Lina M Saavedra, Rocio Moreno, & Jorge H Maldonado

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 confronted with situations pervaded by thresholds?

Method: 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

  • Individual extraction: \[x_{i,t}\]
  • Proportion of extraction: \[x_{i,t}/S_t\]
  • Cooperation: \[C_{i,t} = \frac{x_{i,t}}{\frac{S_t - \theta}{N}}\]

  • Diff-in-diff regression: \[\hat{Y_i} = \hat{\mu} + \hat{\gamma}G_i + \hat{\delta}T_i + \hat{\tau}G_iT_i\]

It’s harder to coordinate under treatments, but agreements increase the probability to coordinate and react to lower stock sizes by reducing fishing preasure. Agreements also reduce the variance of extraction and the variance of cooperation. Changes in fishing effort depends on treatments while changes in cooperation depends on context.


  • Fishermen facing thresholds fish less – they take care of the resources
  • By reducing fishing effort or keeping close to the social optimal people do cooperate. However, cooperation by itself is not affected by our treatments, it seems to be driven more by personal and group dynamics.
  • If the existence of threshold effects already triggers cooperative behavior in natural resource users, then communicating their potential effects on ecosystems and society is more important that quantifying the precise point at which ecosystems tip over. Specially because such thresholds are hard to observe, measure, and they change over time.

Gracias | Tack


twitter: @juanrocha
paper: Preprint coming soon!

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Subscribe to our newsletter at

UpDog logo  Proudly hosted with UpDog.