Applying a cultural multilevel selection framework to the adoption of sustainable management practices in California viticulture

Printer-friendly versionPDF version
Dec 01, 2017
Vicken Hillis, Adrian Bell, Jodi Brandt, Jeremy S. Brooks



In light of the ongoing environmental impacts of agriculture, understanding farmer adoption of sustainable management practices (SMPs) is an important priority. Relatively little work in agricultural adoption has explicitly examined the multilevel dynamics of adoption decision-making. Yet because many SMPs involve cooperative dilemmas—they are individually costly but provide group benefits—understanding the dynamics of both individual and group level behavioral change is critical. In this paper, we argue that cultural evolutionary theory is well suited to examining the emergence and spread of cooperative SMPs, and we illustrate this claim by applying a cultural multilevel selection (CMLS) framework to the adoption of SMPs on the part of winegrape growers in California, USA. Using survey data from over 800 winegrape growers in 3 regions, we estimate the individual-level costs and group-level benefits of 44 different SMPs. We then relate this to variation in their adoption within and between winegrape growing regions to characterize the scope for cultural group selection of the various practices. We also identify a number of mechanisms that might plausibly explain the observed patterns of variation, including various forms of cultural group selection. We highlight the added value of this perspective with respect to the established approaches and outline the data requirements for researchers to conduct similar studies in other settings. Our results underscore the potential for a cultural evolutionary perspective to shed light on the multiscale mechanisms driving adoption of SMPs and, more generally, the promise of cultural evolutionary approaches to supplement existing analytical toolkits in sustainability science.

Read the full paper in Sustainability Science.



Associated Project: 
DOI for citing:
Share: Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Linked Icon