CNH: Social-Ecological Complexity and Adaptation in Marine Systems

The oceans are one of the most dynamic environments on Earth, presenting a profound challenge for understanding the complex social, ecological, and physical interactions that occur within them. Fishers are naturally tuned to this complexity and meet their individual goals by targeting their efforts towards particular locations and types of catch, and by adapting their social interactions. Yet we - the scientific community - lack an understanding of how social behavior and ecological dynamics are coupled. Further, these feedbacks are largely ignored in present management approaches. We aim to fill this knowledge gap by answering three questions: (1) How does fisher social behavior (defined as the level to which individual fishers share information) change in response to ecological, technological and management factors? (2) What effect does social behavior have on fisher spatial dynamics and on the social structure of the fishing community? (3) How can management strategies be designed to account for the social behavior of fishers? To answer these questions we will conduct a comprehensive research project involving data gathering and analysis, theoretical modeling and the development of novel mathematical theory. This project will have direct implications for agencies responsible for managing marine resources along the west coast of the U.S. and in Hawaii, some of whom are collaborating in the research. By increasing our understanding of how humans using a natural resource interact with one another and how this in turn affects that resource, the results of this study will be relevant to fields as diverse as finance and global food security.

We propose to gather data on the spatial and behavioral dynamics of fishers along the U.S. west coast, in Brazil and in Fiji - three marine systems with contrasting social, ecological, technological and management characteristics. U.S. data will come from collaborations with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and data from Brazil and Fiji will be obtained using economic field experiments. All three data sources will be used to develop agent-based models that simulate both the dynamics of fish and individual fishers. We will distinguish ourselves from traditional modeling approaches by adopting a Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) perspective. With a CAS perspective the spatial dynamics of fish and fishers and the social structure of fisher communities, along with other macroscopic properties, emerge from processes operating at low levels of organization, namely the actions of individual fishers and their target species. Our agent-based models will have the CAS perspective at heart, with fisher agents able to adapt and learn different behavioral strategies (e.g. sharing or not sharing information). A combination of variation, fitness and reproduction will create a selective mechanism whereby fisher behaviors converge to evolutionary stable types. We will complement our agent-based modeling with evolutionary game theory and investigate why certain social behaviors are evolutionarily stable in some marine systems and not in others. Last, we will use mechanism design theory to develop management strategies that account for changes in fisher social behavior.

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