The effect of ownership on ecosystem management among human foragers


A basic premise of economics is that more secure property rights reduce conflict and provide an incentive for individuals to increase the productivity of their land. This premise underlies recent theories that food production and more secure property rights, by necessity, co-evolve. The argument goes like this: Dense and predicable resources provide an incentive for more secure property rights and more secure property rights provide an incentive for individuals to modify ecosystems in ways that increase the production of food. Here, we evaluate the effect of property rights on food production among ethnographically recorded hunter-gatherers. In particular, we use path models to evaluate a recent theory for the evolution of ownership rights and ecosystem management in forager-resource systems called the Niche Construction Model of Economic Defense. We conclude that ownership has a positive effect on food production strategies that require reduced coordination between individuals (such as planting and tending patches), but potentially has a negative effect on other food production strategieslandscape burning. Further, the coefficient of variation in rainfall and population density consistently have positive effects on the presence of food production. We discuss the implications of our results for explaining different trajectories of hunter-gatherer intensification in the archaeological record.

Quaternary International