Our lab has been awarded a new grant to apply evolutionary game theory to conservation problems. Standard economic theory predicts that individual rational behaviour will lead to overexploitation of common resources, leading to environmental degradation, as embodied in Garrett Hardin’s classic Tragedy of the Commons. And yet, as Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom showed, many traditional societies have spontaneously developed effective means of sustainable resource management. One possible explanation for this is that humans have an evolved intrinsic tendency to co-operate that is not accounted for by standard economic theory.
We will explore this intriguing idea under the new grant, in collaboration with Hisashi Ohtsuki at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan. We will use Ohtsuki’s recently developed framework for non-co-operative evolutionary game theory to better understand the structure of conservation problems and their potential solutions. Non-co-operative evolutionary game theory is the appropriate tool for this task because its defining feature is the absence of an external authority that could impose rules (by contrast, co-operative evolutionary game theory, which has previously been broadly applied to conservation problems, does assume an external authority).
The award is for three years and comes through Singapore’s Ministry of Education Tier 1 grant programme. Our post-doctoral fellow Nadiah Kristensen will be leading the work on the grant.