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Experimental games to deepen understanding of natural resources use in the Atlantic Forest of São Paulo

Abstract

In recent decades, Brazil's Atlantic Forest has experienced a dramatic turnaround, from being one of the worlds most endangered biodiversity hotspots to record levels of forest re-growth and almost no new deforestation. However, consolidating these gains requires allowing new forests to mature without being re-cleared. Various interventions from fines to payments for environmental services schemes have been proposed to encourage rural smallholders in the region to allow lands under their management to regenerate into mature forests. Researching what types of interventions are most likely to be effective is tricky. The most reliable method would be full-scale field trials of different approaches, with long-term monitoring of impacts. Unfortunately, such work is costly in terms of both time and money. Questionnaires are a low-cost alternative, but rural natural resource users may provide answers that they think surveyors prefer to hear, and may not even have a developed opinion on interventions they have no experience with. Behavioral experiments are a tool that provide greater realism than surveys at a much lower cost that full-scale trials by giving natural-resource users the chance to take part in a fun activity centered around a collective action dilemma with small but real monetary stakes. This proposed research will be a collaboration between Prof. Pedro Brancalion of the ESALQ Forest Science Department and Associate Professor Carl Salk of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Forestry Faculty. Prof. Brancalion is the lead PI of the FAPESP-funded NewFor project that seeks to develop improved restoration methods, policies, and supportive market and legal instruments to promote large-scale restoration in the Atlantic Forest region. Dr. Salk is a recognized leader in developing behavioral experiments to study natural resource use decisions by rural smallholders. He has a track record of publishing results of such studies in high-impact journals. The principal goals of this research visit will be to develop, test and implement an experimental game to understand how smallholder farmers in the Atlantic Forest region can be most effectively be made active partners in reforestation and forest maintenance. After initial discussions about the types of incentives under consideration, Dr. Salk, Prof. Brancalion and other project members will develop an experimental game to test their relative effectiveness. This game will be tested with participants of educational backgrounds similar to expected field participants to ensure that it can be easily understood and will produce meaningful results. Next steps will be to train a team to conduct the field research, and ensure that all procedures are working smoothly in the initial field sites. Dr. Salk will lead all of these activities, and the subsequent data analysis, manuscript preparation, and publication of results. (AU)

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