Published: Ecology Letters


Understanding how humans and animals behave in response to changes in their environments is vital for predicting the long-term trajectory of coupled social-ecological systems. Here, we present a novel framework for identifying emergent social behaviours in foragers (including humans) in predator-prey relationships based on the exploration difficulty and exploitation potential of a resource. We introduce a qualitative framework that predicts when foragers should behave territorially, search collectively, act independently, or switch among these states. To validate it, we derived quantitative predictions from two models: a generic mathematical model, and a lattice-based evolutionary model emphasizing exploitation and exclusion costs. These models independently identified that the exploration difficulty and exploitation potential of the natural resource controls the social behaviour of resource exploiters. Our theoretical predictions were compared to a diverse set of empirical cases focusing on fisheries and aquatic organisms, substantiating the framework's general predictions. Understanding social behaviour for given social-ecological characteristics has far- reaching consequences, particularly for the design of governance structures and regulations to move towards sustainability. Our framework provides concrete steps in this direction.