Evolution, Cooperation, & Sustainability

A collection of lessons that connect evolutionary thinking
to the socio-scientific issues of human cooperation for sustainable resource use

Sustainable resource management is often a matter of managing common-pool resources (CPR), i.e. social and material resources shared by groups of individuals. CPR can be prone to overuse through the competition between resource users who are motivated to maximize their resource use (or to contribute little to the maintenance of the resource) for individual gain and at the expense of group-level sustainability, an outcome known as the Tragedy of the Commons. CPR dilemmas are pervasive, not only in human contexts, but also across the non-human living world.

Exploring contexts across life in which evolution has favored cooperative traits around shared resources can serve as fruitful lessons to help students gain a deeper understanding of the conditions and mechanisms that foster cooperation and sustainable resource use, and critically transfer these to a variety of socio-scientific issues.

Core Lessons

The core lessons below are accessible starting points for learning about the relationships between evolution, sustainability, and cooperation.

NetLogo: Two Foresters

An interactive introduction into concepts of ecology, behavioral ecology, and sustainability with a computer simulation of a simple social-ecological system.

Three Mexican fisheries

Students compare the stories of three Mexican fishing villages to understand the factors that enabled some villages to sustainably manage their fishing resources, while others failed.

Analyzing social-ecological systems

In this lesson, students analyze a select real-world social-ecological system by looking at factors of the resource(s) and ecosystem, resource user behaviors, and governance, to develop recommendations for improving the sustainable management of the resource.

NetLogo Computer Simulation Extensions

What can we learn about human behavior from computer models?

How do scientists construct quantitative and computational models of evolution, sustainability, and cooperation across human and non-human contexts?

Explore a diversity of entry-level NetLogo models linking evolution, sustainability, and cooperation science.

NetLogo: Evolution of resource use through behavior imitation

This model adds cultural evolutionary dynamics through behavior imitation to the evolution of resource use behavior. Several imitation biases are simulated: imitating the majority, the minority, the most successful, the most experienced, or the parents. Depending on the imitation bias, rate of behavioral innovation, and the mobility of agents, one can observe the emergence and spread of norms and traditions of sustainable or unsustainable resource use.

Further Extension resources

Commons game

In a classroom simulation game with changing conditions students develop strategies for the use of a common resource so that the profit for the entire group is maximized.

Collective Action Puzzle Game

A group game that lets students experience the dilemma between self-interest and collective interest when groups have to work together to achieve shared goals.

Stone Age Hunting Game

A cooperation game that simulates the challenge of our stone age ancestors to acquire food in the African savanna

Climate Change Game

A cooperation game that lets students experience some of the challenges of cooperation in addressing global climate change

Honeybee Democracy

Students explore how a honeybee swarm makes a decision about their future nesting site, and explore the similarities and differences to how human groups make decisions.

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This resource collection was developed with the cooperative support of the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology
together with Prosocial Schools and our University partners. 

This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.