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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 14;106(28):11812-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809980106. Epub 2009 Jun 29.

Linking social norms to efficient conservation investment in payments for ecosystem services.

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  • 1Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


An increasing amount of investment has been devoted to protecting and restoring ecosystem services worldwide. The efficiency of conservation investments, including payments for ecosystem services (PES), has been found to be affected by biological, political, economic, demographic, and social factors, but little is known about the effects of social norms at the neighborhood level. As a first attempt to quantify the effects of social norms, we studied the effects of a series of possible factors on people's intentions of maintaining forest on their Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP) land plots if the program ends. GTGP is one of the world's largest PES programs and plays an important role in global conservation efforts. Our study was conducted in China's Wolong Nature Reserve, home to the world-famous endangered giant pandas and >4,500 farmers. We found that, in addition to conservation payment amounts and program duration, social norms at the neighborhood level had significant impacts on program re-enrollment, suggesting that social norms can be used to leverage participation to enhance the sustainability of conservation benefits from PES programs. Moreover, our results demonstrate that economic and demographic trends also have profound implications for sustainable conservation. Thus, social norms should be incorporated with economic and demographic trends for efficient conservation investments.

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