The impact of uncertainty on cooperation intent in a conservation conflict



Pollard C, Redpath S, Bussière L, Keane A, Thompson D, Young J & Bunnefeld N (2019) The impact of uncertainty on cooperation intent in a conservation conflict. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56 (5), pp. 1278-1288.

Stakeholder cooperation can be vital in managing conservation conflicts. Laboratory experiments show cooperation is less likely in the presence of uncertainty. Much less is known about how stakeholders in real-life conservation conflicts respond to different types of uncertainty. We tested the effects of different sources of uncertainty on cooperative behaviour using a framed field experiment and interviews. The experiment compared a baseline scenario of perfect certainty with scenarios including either: (a) scientific uncertainty about the effectiveness of a conflict-reduction intervention; (b) administrative uncertainty about intervention funding; or (c) political uncertainty about the extent of community support. We applied these scenarios to a conservation conflict in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, involving the management of geese to simultaneously meet both conservation and farming objectives. We asked 149 crofters (small-scale farmers) if they would commit to cooperate with others by helping fund a goose management plan given the three sources of uncertainty. On average, intention to cooperate was highest (99%) in scenarios without uncertainty, and lowest under administrative uncertainty (77%). Scientific uncertainty and political uncertainty both had less of an effect, with over 95% of crofters predicted to be willing to cooperate in these scenarios. Crofters who indicated concern for other crofters suffering the impact of geese were more likely to cooperate. The longer an individual had been a crofter, the less likely they were to cooperate. Synthesis and applications. Crofters’ intention to cooperate is high but lessened by uncertainty, especially over the commitment from other stakeholders such as government, to cooperate on goose management. Existing cooperation on goose management may be at risk if uncertainty is not reduced outright or commitments between parties are not strengthened. This has wide applicability, supporting the need for researchers and government advisers to: (a) determine how uncertainty will impact intention of stakeholders to cooperate; and (b) take steps (such as uncertainty reduction, communication or acceptance) to reduce the negative impact of uncertainty on cooperation.

conflict; conservation management; decision‐making; experimental economics; goose; public goods game; uncertainty

Journal of Applied Ecology: Volume 56, Issue 5

FundersNatural Environment Research Council
Publication date31/05/2019
Publication date online15/02/2019
Date accepted by journal15/12/2018

People (2)


Professor Nils Bunnefeld

Professor Nils Bunnefeld

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Mr Chris Pollard

Mr Chris Pollard

PhD Researcher, Biological and Environmental Sciences