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Emergence of social inequality in the spatial harvesting of renewable public goods
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. Evolution and Ecology Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9862-816x
2020 (English)In: PloS Computational Biology, ISSN 1553-734X, E-ISSN 1553-7358, Vol. 16, no 1, article id e1007483Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Spatially extended ecological public goods, such as forests, grasslands, and fish stocks, are at risk of being overexploited by selfish consumers-a phenomenon widely recognized as the 'tragedy of the commons.' The interplay of spatial and ecological dimensions introduces new features absent in non-spatial ecological contexts, such as consumer mobility, local information availability, and strategy evolution through social learning in neighborhoods. It is unclear how these features interact to influence the harvesting and dispersal strategies of consumers. To answer these questions, we develop and analyze an individual-based, spatially structured, eco-evolutionary model with explicit resource dynamics. We report the following findings. (1) When harvesting efficiency is low, consumers evolve a sedentary consumption strategy, through which the resource is harvested sustainably, but with harvesting rates far below their maximum sustainable value. (2) As harvesting efficiency increases, consumers adopt a mobile 'consume-and-disperse' strategy, which is sustainable, equitable, and gives maximum sustainable yield. (3) A further increase in harvesting efficiency leads to large-scale overexploitation. (4) If costs of dispersal are significant, increased harvesting efficiency also leads to social inequality between frugal sedentary consumers and overexploitative mobile consumers. Whereas overexploitation can occur without social inequality, social inequality always leads to overexploitation. Thus, we identify four conditions that-while being characteristic of technological progress in modern societies-risk social inequality and overexploitation: high harvesting efficiency, moderately low costs of dispersal, high consumer density, and the tendency of consumers to adopt new strategies rapidly. We also show how access to global information-another feature widespread in modern societies-helps mitigate these risks.

Author summary: Throughout history, humans have shaped ecological landscapes, which in turn have influenced human behavior. This mutual dependence is epitomized when human consumers harvest a spatially extended renewable resource. Simple models predict that, when multiple consumers harvest a shared resource, each is tempted to harvest faster than his/her peers, putting the resource at risk of overexploitation. It is unclear, however, how the interplay among resource productivity, consumer mobility, and social learning in spatial ecological public goods games influences evolved consumer behavior. Here, using an individual-based, spatially structured, eco-evolutionary model of consumers and a resource, we find that increasing resource productivity initially promotes efficient resource use by enabling mobile consumption strategies, but eventually leads to inequality and overexploitation, as overexploitative mobile consumers coexist with frugal sedentary consumers. When consumers are impatient (i.e., eager to imitate successful strategies) or myopic (i.e., unaware of conditions outside of their neighborhoods), inequality and overexploitation tend to aggravate.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Public Library Science , 2020. Vol. 16, no 1, article id e1007483
National Category
Computational Mathematics Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-168342DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007483ISI: 000510916500009PubMedID: 31914166Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85078548065OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-168342DiVA, id: diva2:1395780
Available from: 2020-02-24 Created: 2020-02-24 Last updated: 2023-03-24Bibliographically approved

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Brännström, Åke

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