Due to a shortage of natural predators, wild animal populations are often controlled through hunting. Whether a hunter shoots at an animal depends not only on specific hunting criteria, but is also significantly influenced by social factors - such as competition with other hunters. This was demonstrated in a study directed by Florian Diekert, economist at Heidelberg University. In their study of red-deer hunting in Norway, the researchers developed a behavioural model that can predict these "individual" decisions under certain conditions. Their findings can be useful for sustainable wild animal management.
According to Prof. Diekert, the size and distribution of the deer population in Norway has increased dramatically in the last several years, resulting in a substantially higher hunting quota. This human intervention, however, has long-term effects on the socio-ecological system at the interface between human beings and nature. "In order to make sustainable wild animal management possible, those responsible need to know not only which animals are ultimately removed from the overall population, but also how hunters make decisions," states the Heidelberg researcher.
To assess this decision-making process, the researchers analysed 10 years of data from 250 hunting locations in Norway. They compared the number of deer sighted with the number of those actually shot. These analyses were correlated with different social factors and external conditions - such as the weather conditions, the time of the hunt, and the number of hunters in a group. The investigations show that the shorter the remaining hunting season, the less selective the hunters are, that is the higher the probability is that an animal sighted will be shot. Poor visibility and competitive pressure in large hunting parties are also factors that significantly influence the hunter’s decision to take a shot.
In its study, Prof. Diekert’s team combined empirical methods and theories of environmental economics. The behavioural model they developed can be used for specific applications such as conservation of wild animals or ecosystems. Individual hunting behaviour could be managed by stipulating the length of the hunting season or the number of hunters that jointly compete for fulfilling a quota.
The research was conducted in collaboration with scientists from the universities of Oslo and Wageningen. Florian Diekert is a Junior Professor of economics with a special focus on behavioural common-property resource economics at the Alfred-Weber-Institute for Economics at Heidelberg University.