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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Natural resource dependence

Variable relationship:

With respect to natural resource commons (not pollutants), some level of economic dependence (Economic Dependence) on a commons has been frequently argued to be a necessary element for sustainable resource use (Collective Action and Commons Condition Trend). Cox et al. (2010) in their review of the literature on community-based natural resource management, remark:

"Pinkerton and Weinstein (1995) and Gibson (2001) note that dependence on the resource used by a community is an important factor in the robustness of the management regime. When members are not as dependent on the resource, their welfare is not as strongly tied to their cooperative behavior."

However, excessive resource dependence may in fact impede efforts to curtail extraction and conserve the resource. As Fleischman et al. (2014) state:

"In many small-scale CPR systems, users are dependent on resources for their subsistence and livelihood needs. High resource dependence can tie resource users into unsustainable patterns of resource use, i.e. where poverty forces people to over-exploit resources....Four of our cases support the notion that high dependence fosters over-exploitation."

This theory does not apply to pollutants, where dependence on a commons is interpreted to mean dependence on the economic process that produces the pollutant. In that case, there is evidence (e.g. in the Montreal Protocal case) that increased dependence has a more linear and negative relationship to commons condition (as measured in that context by pollution levels).

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Natural Resource Unit


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Economic dependenceProximate independent variableSome level of dependence on a resource is seen as necessary for incentivizing resource users to maintain this resource.Moderately dependent
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeAs long as resource dependence is moderate, this dependence should lead resource users act collectively to maintain the resource.High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeHigh levels of collective action is predicted to sustain the resource.Remained the same or Improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)nested
Collective action and the commonscontains

Related Studies


Cox, Michael, Gwen Arnold, and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas. 2010. “A Review of Design Principles for Community-Based Natural Resource Management.” Ecology and Society 15 (4).


Fleischman, Forrest D, Natalie C Ban, Louisa S Evans, Graham Epstein, Gustavo Garcia-Lopez, and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas. 2014. “Governing Large-Scale Social-Ecological Systems: Lessons from Five Cases.” International Journal of the Commons 8 (2): 428–456.


Gibson, Clark. 2001. “Forest Resources: Institutions for Local Governance in Guatemala.” In Protecting the Commons: A Framework For Resource Management In The Americas, edited by Joanna Burger, Elinor Ostrom, Richard B. Norgaard, David Policansky, and Bernard Goldstein, 71–88. Washington, D.C.


Pinkerton, Evelyn W, and Martin Weinstein. 1995. Fisheries That Work: Sustainability through Community-Based Management. Vancouver, Canada: The David Suzuki Foundation.