Document Type


Journal/Book Title

Ecology and Society


Resilience Alliance

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License



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A growing literature seeks to explore the factors shaping adaptation to climate change. In collectively managed common pool resource systems, there is often a tension between behavior that benefits the individual and actions that benefit a larger group. Resource users in sustainable systems must therefore work together to ensure outcomes that are beneficial to the group as a whole. However, in the face of changing social, political, and environmental conditions, community norms may change, leading to the emerging of new behavioral patterns. Understanding when and why people decide to act in ways that benefit the group as a whole can help policy makers better target policies or change incentives to promote desired outcomes. This research seeks to build on research in common pool resource management and multilevel selection to understand how and why collective pressures shape individual adaptation behavior. Using qualitative data from in-depth interviews of farmers in Sri Lanka, this study confirms that collective management practices in Sri Lankan irrigation systems significantly influence farmer’s potential adaption behaviors. Based on farmer’s explanations of their own behavior, we hypothesize that farmer’s belief in the ecological necessity of cooperation and explicit government support for collective action are important drivers of collective action. Given the influence of community rules and norms, we conclude that efforts at adaptation are more likely to be successful if they target farmer organizations and communities as a whole rather than individual farmers.