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Understanding how and when cooperative human behaviour forms in common-pool resource systems is critical to illuminating social–ecological systems and designing governance institutions that promote sustainable resource use. Before assessing the full complexity of social dynamics, it is essential to understand, concretely and mechanistically, how resource dynamics and human actions interact to create incentives and pay-offs for social behaviours. Here, we investigated how such incentives for information sharing are affected by spatial dynamics and management in a common- pool resource system. Using interviews with fishermen to inform an agent-based model, we reveal generic mechanisms through which, for a given ecological setting characterized by the spatial dynamics of the resource, the two ‘human factors’ of information sharing and management may heterogeneously impact various members of a group for whom theory would otherwise predict the same strategy. When users can deplete the resource, these interactions are further affected by the management approach. Finally, we discuss the implications of alternative motivations, such as equity among fishermen and consistency of the fleet’s output. Our results indicate that resource spatial dynamics, form of management and level of depletion can interact to alter the sociality of people in common-pool resource systems, providing necessary insight for future study of strategic decision processes.

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