Experimental evidence on payments for forest commons conservation

  • Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages128135 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0034-z
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Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) represent a popular strategy for environmental protection, and tropical forest conservation in particular. Little is known, however, about their effectiveness. Many argue that even if PES increase conservation while payments last, they may adversely affect other motivations for pro-environmental behaviour in the longer term. We test whether conditional payments also encourage forest users to conserve shared forest resources after payments end. Using a framed field experiment with 1,200 tropical forest users in five countries, we show that (1) during the intervention, conditional payments increased conservation behaviour; (2) after payments stopped, users continued to conserve more on average than they did before the intervention, especially when they were able to communicate with each other; and (3) trust amplified the lasting conservation effects of the interventions. PES effectiveness may increase when interventions facilitate interpersonal communication and when implemented in contexts where forest users enjoy high levels of trust.

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We thank A. Agrawal, R. Chazdon, P. Magnuszewski, J. Menken, P. Newton, M. Pajak, S.M. Smith, J. Stefanska, M. Trautmann and P. Valdivieso for constructive comments on earlier drafts of the paper. We also thank L. Schultz for valuable editorial assistance. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (grants DEB-1114984, BCS-1115009 and SMA-328688), as well as the Center for International Forestry Research (through grants from the European Commission and the UK Department for International Development).

Author information


  1. Department of Political Science, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Krister P. Andersson
    •  & Nathan J. Cook
  2. Department of Political Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

    • Tara Grillos
  3. Department of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

    • Maria Claudia Lopez
  4. Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden

    • Carl F. Salk
  5. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

    • Carl F. Salk
  6. Department of Political Science, University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau, AK, USA

    • Glenn D. Wright
  7. Center for International Forestry Research, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Esther Mwangi


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K.P.A., C.F.S. and G.D.W. conceived of the project, M.C.L., K.P.A., C.F.S. and E.M. designed the experiments, M.C.L. and E.M. conducted the experiments, N.J.C. and T.G. developed the analysis approach, N.J.C. analysed the data and K.P.A., T.G. and N.J.C. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Krister P. Andersson.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Discussion, Methods and References, plus Supplementary Tables 1–10 and Supplementary Figures 1–3

  2. Supplementary Data File

    Two datasets, Balance test script, R script, guide to the data files