Project Details


This project, which trains a graduate student in methods of empirical, scientific data collection and analysis, asks whether natural disasters bring people together or drive them apart. Research on the evolution of human behavior suggests that the human capacity for cooperation may be partially a result of our earliest ancestors' need to cope with variable climates and resource scarcity. This issue is of particular importance in the present when even the world's most remote populations are affected by both global economic integration and the effects of climate change. Cooperation often provides a viable solution for both communities and national governments to mitigate the negative effects of risks such as economic crises, transnational resource conflicts, and threats to national security. However, efforts at cooperation are often stymied by resource shortages, conflict, and the competing goals of populations and interest groups. The proposed research will focus on the individual and community-level responses to natural disasters among a small group of nomadic herders that are highly susceptible to severe weather. Thomas Conte, under the supervision of Dr. Lee Cronk of Rutgers University, will explore what impact environmental risk has on the development and maintenance of cooperation and community resilience. The research will be conducted among two communities of nomadic livestock herders living in sub-arctic northern Mongolia. This site is selected for exploration as it is highly susceptible to severe winter disaster conditions (known as zud in Mongolian) in which severely cold temperatures or blizzard conditions cause widespread livestock mortality. In the most severe cases, winter disasters can lead to the loss of families' entire herds and millions of livestock deaths on a national scale. Thus, they represent a major contributor to rural poverty in the region. Given that northern Mongolia is distant from major urban centers, herders must rely on their own efforts to both prepare for and recover from winter disasters, and these efforts often come in the form of cooperation with other herding families. The researchers will assess how livestock herders respond to natural disasters by analyzing herders' social networks of labor exchange, interviewing families regarding their efforts to prepare for and recover from natural disasters, and comparing individuals' willingness to cooperate with others during disasters in an experimental economic scenario. This research will employ semi-structured interviews, social network analysis, and experimental economic games. Findings from this research will provide greater insight on how environmental risk affects the development and maintenance of cooperation in small-scale societies. In addition, research findings can also inform future policy directions on how community-based decision making and cooperation can increase communities' resilience to natural disasters both in Mongolia and the United States.
Effective start/end date8/1/167/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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