NatCOOP: How nature affects cooperation in common pool resource systems

A picture taken in the field

A picture taken in the field

About the project

The NATCOOP project adopts a social-ecological perspective towards the sustainable development of natural resources. By bringing the dynamic two-way relationship between nature and cooperation in renewable resource systems into focus, the projects aims to study how nature shapes preferences and incentives of economic agents and how this in turn affects common-pool resource management.

In recent advances of the economic literature, the effect of the natural environment on economic agents has been largely overlooked. NATCOOP aims to incorporate the “environment” of an agent into the analysis. Thereby, the project proposes a new perspective on common-pool resource management in order to improve the understanding of the relationship between nature and cooperation. This should facilitate solutions for the efficient allocation of scarce resources to pursue long-term social and economic development.

Link to the NatCOOP project website at the University of Heidelberg


NATCOOP concentrates on three specific mechanisms. First, the projects explores how potential thresholds and tipping points in the natural resource systems lead to changes in cooperative behavior. Experiencing and learning about the dynamics of such an event might enable agents to coordinate on optimal outcomes. To this end, game-theoretical models of resource use with a threatening regime-shift are developed and validated by data analysis and experiments in the field.

Second, the project aims to uncover whether the natural resource volatility influences risk preferences and how this in turn affects the resulting level of cooperation. Here, the relationship between risk exposure and risk aversion is analysed and their combined effect on resource governance will be formalized by appropriate models.

Third, NATCOOP studies how social norms interact with the natural environment to facilitate cooperative solutions to the social dilemma of common-pool resource extraction. The project conducts research on the possibility to change social norms of cooperation by providing information on the behavior of peers while offering varying mechanisms for enforcement within the community.


The NATCOOP team visits fisheries in Tanzania, Chile, and Norway to study these objectives. The fisheries for dagaa and nile perch at Lake Victoria, the pelagic and benthic fisheries in Chile, and the Norwegian fisheries for cod and herring serve as case studies with differing natural and social environments. Through comparing these frameworks and drawing connections between all three objectives, NATCOOP utilizes organizational and conceptual synergies. As a unified project, the bigger picture of how the natural environment influences incentives for common-pool resource management can be addressed.


This project is an EU Horizon2020 Project, ID: 678049

Link to the NatCOOP EU Grant agreement page


01.08.2016 - 31.07.2021

Published Dec. 16, 2020 9:51 PM - Last modified Feb. 2, 2021 10:15 AM