Research Projects (Archive)

Coupled natural human systems (CNHs) are often distinguished by how they have evolved the right fit between their biophysical and social sub-systems when faced with known/anticipated disturbances. This project addresses what happens when CNHs are exposed to a new set of disturbances or novel changes likely to occur with increased globalization and climate change. To address this question, the project team will focus on small-scale irrigation systems where the manmade infrastructure plays a critical role in how people share water resources.

The world is presently experiencing a period of dramatic social and economic change. We are also experiencing rapid change in earth systems that support human societies. The goal of this project was to develop tools and ideas to help understand how we may cope with this change.

Management of shared or “common pool” resources -- like shared grazing or fishing grounds or the fragile reputation of an industry or profession -- is a hard problem. The possibility that some parties will over consume, pollute or otherwise damage the resource as they extract their personal value from it is always present. To date, researchers have identified basic principles for how humans organize themselves to govern common resources, but these are mostly static principles.

There are many examples of societies which have endured for long periods, successfully coping with uncertainty, disturbance, and change in the environment. There are also many examples of societies which have failed in this regard. The core question addressed in this interdisciplinary research project was why some social-ecological systems are more successful in navigating disturbances and change in the environment than others.

This project established a consortium in the social and natural sciences for facilitating agent based modeling (ABM) of socioecological dynamics. This organization serves the scientific community as a framework for collaboration and interdisciplinary research, emphasizing the complex interactions between humans and the environment.

This project is a component of a larger project led by the Institute of Human Origins ( The main goal is to examine the coupled response of people and the environment in the Cape Floral Region on the south coast of Africa to major fluctuations in global climate during the time of the origins of the modern human lineage.

There is growing interest in the use of information and communication technologies for community engagement and for crowd-sourcing solutions to difficult problems through challenges and prizes. Governmental and nongovernmental organizations are being encouraged to design, deploy, manage and support appropriate online platforms to address both goals and improve economic competitiveness.

Significance: In face of increasing drought risk in semi-arid and rapid urbanizing regions such as the US Southwest, it is increasingly important that the diversity of water users collaborate and participate in the adaptation and transformation of water-use systems. Despite declining crop production in central Arizona, irrigated agriculture remains the primary water user.

These network activities focus on basic socio-ecological principles applied to the study of the sustainability of renewable resources in large marine ecosystems under incumbent climate variability and human exploitation. Through this network a gap is bridged among ecologists, mathematicians, social scientists and resource managers to provide a sound science support system for conservation.

Various social sciences have contributed to understanding how humans make decisions in a given rule set of experimental games, such as social dilemmas, coordination, and bargaining. However, the rules of the games are not fixed in real-life settings. No systematic studies have been performed on the question of how humans are able to change the rules in commons dilemmas. From field studies it is well known that people invest significant effort in crafting new rules.

Many of the challenges facing contemporary society, such as emission reductions or vaccination for infectious diseases, are collective action problems. To address these challenges, new approaches are needed to understand, stimulate and sustain collective action in large heterogeneous populations.

Development, documentation and deployment of VCweb software for experimental web research to test whether in-group favoritism can support sustainable resource use? The hypothesis is that social awareness of neighboring groups may increase awareness of ones own ecological state, and thus increase the chances for the evolution of sustainable resource use norms when those groups are isolated in ecological and economic domains, but not when they are ecologically and economically integrated.