Evaluating environmental change and behavioral decision-making for sustainability policy using an agent-based model: a case study for the Smoky Hill River Watershed, Kansas

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Granco, G., J.L. Heier, J. Stamm, J.S. Bergtold, M.D. Daniels, M.R. Sanderson, A.Y. Sheshukov, M.E. Mather, M.M. Caldas, S.M. Ramsey, R.J. Lehrter II, D.A. Haukos, J. Gao, S. Chatterjee, J.C. Nifong, J.A. Aistrup. 2019. Science of The Total Environment 695:133769.


Sustainability has been at the forefront of the environmental research agenda of the integrated anthroposphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere since the last century and will continue to be critically important for future environmental science. However, linking humans and the environment through effective policy remains a major challenge for sustainability research and practice. Here we address this gap using an agent-based model (ABM) for a coupled natural and human systems in the Smoky Hill River Watershed (SHRW), Kansas, USA. For this freshwater-dependent agricultural watershed with a highly variable flow regime influenced by human-induced land-use and climate change, we tested the support for an environmental policy designed to conserve and protect fish biodiversity in the SHRW. We develop a proof of concept interdisciplinary ABM that integrates field data on hydrology, ecology (fish richness), social-psychology (value-belief-norm) and economics, to simulate human agents’ decisions to support environmental policy. The mechanism to link human behaviors to environmental changes is the social-psychological sequence identified by the value-belief-norm framework and is informed by hydrological and fish ecology models. Our results indicate that (1) cultural factors influence the decision to support the policy; (2) a mechanism modifying social-psychological factors can influence the decision-making process; (3) there is resistance to environmental policy in the SHRW, even under potentially extreme climate conditions; and (4) the best opportunities for policy acceptance were found immediately after extreme environmental events. The modeling approach presented herein explicitly links biophysical and social science has broad generality for sustainability problems.