Group Decisions in Biodiversity Conservation: Implications from Game Theory

David M. Frank and Sahotra Sarkar (University of Texas) have produced a paper on how Game Theory can be applied to group decision making in biodiversity matters.  Decision analysis and game theory have proved useful tools in various biodiversity conservation planning and modeling contexts. This paper shows how game theory may be used to inform group decisions in biodiversity conservation scenarios by modeling conflicts between stakeholders to identify Pareto–inefficient Nash equilibria. These are cases in which each agent pursuing individual self–interest leads to a worse outcome for all, relative to other feasible outcomes. Three case studies from biodiversity conservation contexts showing this feature are modeled to demonstrate how game–theoretical representation can inform group decision-making.

Methodology and Principal Findings

The mathematical theory of games is used to model three biodiversity conservation scenarios with Pareto–inefficient Nash equilibria:

(i)                  a two–agent case involving wild dogs in South Africa;

(ii)                a three–agent raptor and grouse conservation scenario from the United Kingdom; and

(iii)               an n–agent fish and coral conservation scenario from the Philippines.

In each case there is reason to believe that traditional mechanism–design solutions that appeal to material incentives may be inadequate, and the game–theoretical analysis recommends a resumption of further deliberation between agents and the initiation of trust—and confidence—building measures.

Conclusions and Significance

Game theory can and should be used as a normative tool in biodiversity conservation contexts: identifying scenarios with Pareto–inefficient Nash equilibria enables constructive action in order to achieve (closer to) optimal conservation outcomes, whether by policy solutions based on mechanism design or otherwise. However, there is mounting evidence that formal mechanism–design solutions may backfire in certain cases. Such scenarios demand a return to group deliberation and the creation of reciprocal relationships of trust.

Read the full paper here in PDF format.

Citation: Frank DM, Sarkar S (2010) Group Decisions in Biodiversity Conservation: Implications from Game Theory. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10688. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010688


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