Evolutionary ecology and resource conservation Academic Article uri icon


  • Recent field work has shown that, contrary to commonly held beliefs, subsistence hunters do not conserve prey resources. Evolutionary ecologists have approached this problem by using foraging theory to show that subsistence hunters prefer short-term returns over the potential long-term returns generated by resource conservation. An important reason for this outcome is that the resources exploited by subsistence hunters are often open-access, which means that collective-action problems can ensue. Ownership is critical for conservation to pay, but even if resources are privately owned high opportunity costs can minimize the long-term benefits of restraint. Because the benefits of conservation accrue in the future, the benefits must be discounted. This is because future benefits may not be realized for a variety of reasons. Recent efforts to understand evolved human time preference suggest an evolved discount rate between 2% and 6% annually, depending on many factors. If the growth rate of a potentially conserved prey population is less than the discount rate, the long-term benefits of conservation will fall short of the short-term benefits of exploitation.

published proceedings

  • Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews

altmetric score

  • 2.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Alvard, M. S.

citation count

  • 79

complete list of authors

  • Alvard, Michael S

publication date

  • January 1998