Social networks and conservation outcomes

Human interactions and leveraging social influence play a major role in encouraging people to adopt pro-environmental behaviors. Social network research has, therefore, become a critical domain of knowledge for understanding how conservation initiatives and environmental governance can be made more effective. However, severe knowledge gaps remain in understanding how social interactions drive outcomes in environmental systems. Consequently, leveraging social influence occasionally unexpectedly fails in delivering desired environmental outcomes.

By using a social-ecological simulation model of voluntary conservation on agricultural land, this study suggests that to fully understand the capacity of social influence to generate desired environmental outcomes, social networks must not be seen as “closed systems”. Rather, the social interactions that drive environmental outcomes constantly interact with the environment and different components of the social system in complex ways. Our results suggest that studying how social networks embedded in dynamic social-ecological systems, and adapting to the ways that the larger-scale system change, can help explain unexpected environmental outcomes.

Our study is based on a survey of over 3000 land owners in New Zealand. Using the survey data provides real world heterogeneity among land owners that are included in our dynamic social-ecological system. To measure the effects that social interactions have on the extent of environmental change, we used biodiversity-relevant spatial indicators of habitat change.

Yletyinen J., Perry G.L.W., Stahlmann-Brown P., Pech R., Tylianakis J.M. 2021. Multiple social network influences can generate unexpected environmental outcomes. Scientific Reports 11, 9768.

Read here.

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