The impact of uncertainty on cooperation intent in a conservation conflict

Chris R. J. Pollard (Corresponding Author), Steve Redpath, Luc F. Bussière, Aidan Keane, Des B. A. Thompson, Juliette C. Young, Nils Bunnefeld

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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: i) scientific uncertainty about the effectiveness of a conflict‐reduction intervention; ii) administrative uncertainty about intervention funding; or iii) 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 isn't reduced outright or commitments between parties are not strengthened. This has wide applicability, supporting the need for researchers and government advisers to: i) determine how uncertainty will impact intention of stakeholders to cooperate; and ii) take steps (such as uncertainty reduction, communication, or acceptance) to reduce the negative impact of uncertainty on cooperation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1278-1288
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date14 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

The authors thank the crofting communities of the Uists for their participation and local Scottish Natural Heritage staff for fieldwork support and expertise. Two anonymous reviewers are also thanked for their help in improving this paper. CP was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council Doctoral Training Grant as part of the IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership (NE/L002590/1).

Data accessibility
The data used in this study are available via the Dryad Digital Repository (Pollard et al. 2019).


  • conflict
  • conservation management
  • experimental economics
  • goose
  • uncertainty
  • public-goods game
  • decision making
  • decision-making
  • public goods game


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