Mid-sized teams best at forest conservation

Protecting the environment demands teamwork. But what group size is the most effective? According to a study in China, mid-sized groups of people are the most successful at conserving forests.

The study took place in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, which houses one-tenth of the world’s wild giant pandas. As part of a conservation program, more than 1,000 households monitored about 40,100 hectares of the reserve for illegal activities such as logging. Groups of one to 16 households were assigned to look after different sections of the forest.

Mid-sized groups of eight to nine households put the most effort per household into monitoring, the team reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their forest parcels also performed the best; when overseen by a nine-household group, forest cover increased by 15.8 percent from 2001 to 2007.

Larger groups probably have more “free riders,” or members who don’t pull their weight, the researchers say. And smaller groups may not be able to exert enough social pressure on their members to contribute. — Roberta Kwok | 17 June 2013

Source: Yang, W. et al. 2013. Nonlinear effects of group size on collective action and resource outcomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301733110.

Image © Robert Kneschke | Shutterstock.com

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