'Game theory' is a mathematical framework that aims to predict the performance of individuals or groups by considering the interaction between them...
New research has applied game theory to three different cases of biodiversity conservation to predict conflict and offer broad suggestions for overcoming disagreements.
The research analysed the plan of re-introducing wild dogs to a park in Eastern South Africa. There were two main groups concerned with this project: conservationists who supported the re-introduction and local farmers who were against it because wild dogs kill their livestock.
According to game theory, a stable situation could be reached when it is guaranteed that neither group will do any better than the other by changing their strategy. In this case, this would mean that plans to re-introduce wild dogs would go ahead and farmers would be likely to kill the dogs.
However, game theory also predicts that this situation could cause conflict because both groups could still improve their situation without causing a loss to the other, for example, if both re-introduction and killing were stopped. As a solution, the researchers suggest that any re-introduction must be accompanied by payoffs for local farmers to stop killing.
Red grouse birds in the UK are hunted recreationally by humans and are the prey of the hen harrier, a wild bird of prey. Hen harriers increased in numbers during the 1990s, which has caused concern for the red grouse, mainly from gamekeepers. One solution to the falling numbers of grouse is to introduce golden eagles which prey on hen harriers.
The research identified three groups of stakeholders: gamekeepers, hen harrier conservationists and golden eagle conservationists. Game theory predicts that a stable situation would be reached if hen harriers were culled to control their population and golden eagles were introduced into hen harrier habitat.
However, game theory also predicts that there may be conflict under this set of circumstances because both groups could improve their situation without causing a loss to the others. Unlike the previous example of wild dogs there are a multiple ways in which this could happen. In cases like these the researchers suggest a more practical analysis is needed to produce policy recommendations, such as providing the stakeholders with the different situations to see where their preferences lie.
Coral reefs are regarded as a biodiversity hotspot but are prone to overfishing, especially in the Philippines. The research considered the stakeholders to be an unlimited number of fishermen. It considered two options: firstly that the government or community enforced a maximum quota where a certain number of over-exploited fish could be extracted, and secondly, that the fishermen decided amongst themselves to limit their fishing below the set quota.
Game theory predicted that the stable situation with no motivation for any of the fishermen to change their strategy would be the enforcement of the quota. However, in the long run, this may lead to a decline in other endangered species and, as they decline, so too would the exploited species. In this case the best solution for fishermen is to co-operate and limit their fishing of all species to a greater degree than the enforced quota.
The study demonstrated that game theory can be used to identify situations where conflict may arise and where stakeholders should be encouraged to interact.
Source: Frank, D.M. & Sarkar, S. (2010). Group Decisions in Biodiversity Conservation: Implications from Game Theory. PLoS ONE. 5(5):1-10.
Science for Environment Policy, issue 208: A service from the European Commission