Human-environment feedback and the consistency of proenvironmental behavior

Claire Ecotière, Sylvain Billiard, Jean Baptiste André, Pierre Collet, Régis Ferrière, Sylvie Méléard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Addressing global environmental crises such as anthropogenic climate change requires the consistent adoption of proenvironmental behavior by a large part of a population. Here, we develop a mathematical model of a simple behavior-environment feedback loop to ask how the individual assessment of the environmental state combines with social interactions to influence the consistent adoption of proenvironmental behavior, and how this feeds back to the perceived environmental state. In this stochastic individual-based model, individuals can switch between two behaviors, ‘active’ (or actively proenvironmental) and ‘baseline’, differing in their perceived cost (higher for the active behavior) and environmental impact (lower for the active behavior). We show that the deterministic dynamics and the stochastic fluctuations of the system can be approximated by ordinary differential equations and a Ornstein-Uhlenbeck type process. By definition, the proenvironmental behavior is adopted consistently when, at population stationary state, its frequency is high and random fluctuations in frequency are small. We find that the combination of social and environmental feedbacks can promote the spread of costly proenvironmental behavior when neither, operating in isolation, would. To be adopted consistently, strong social pressure for proenvironmental action is necessary but not sufficient—social interactions must occur on a faster timescale compared to individual assessment, and the difference in environmental impact must be small. This simple model suggests a scenario to achieve large reductions in environmental impact, which involves incrementally more active and potentially more costly behavior being consistently adopted under increasing social pressure for proenvironmentalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1011429
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number9 September
StatePublished - Sep 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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