Tim Waring

Cooperating Faculty, Anthropology
Cooperating Faculty, School of Policy and International Affairs

Media Expertise:
Computational Simulation and Agent-Based Modeling
Sustainability Science
Human Cooperation Dynamics

Research Interests
Environmental Sustainability
Cultural Evolution
Local Food Systems
Organizational Sustainability
Human Culture and Cooperation

Research Projects

News and Updates:

Social Media:

Student Opportunities:
Currently accepting PhD students through the EES graduate program, and Masters students through the School of Economics.


  • ECO 581: Agent Based Modeling
  • ECO 370: Evolutionary Economics
  • ECO 381: Sustainable Development Principles and Policies
  • ECO 590: Mathematical Models of Social Evolution


  • 2010 University of California, Davis, Ph.D. (Human Ecology)
  • 1999 Haverford College, B.S. (Biology)


My research is an effort to develop, test and apply an evolutionary approach to sustainability.

In my theoretical research, I ask the basic question “how do sustainable behaviors, institutions, and societies emerge and persist?” My contribution starts from two simple observations. First, that a lack of human cooperation over environmental resource use is usually implicated in sustainability challenges, and second that standard social science approaches overlook the problem of social endogeneity, failing to explain the emergence and persistence of sustainable behaviors and institutions. These observations have lead me to develop the cultural multilevel selection (CMLS) framework for sustainability analysis (Waring et al., 2015). In addition to the framework itself, my theoretical and basic science publications include evidence for cultural group selection in human cooperation (Richerson et al., 2016) and broader considerations for sustainability science (Waring, 2010). A recent agent-based model of cooperation and institutional evolution (Waring et al., Ecological Economics, 2017) advances theory on the emergence and persistence of sustainable behavior and environmental governance institutions and forms a theoretical basis for future modeling work based in specific social-ecological contexts. This model and theory has fed directly into the NIMBioS working group I lead, along with Marco Janssen (ASU) and Karolina Safarzynska (University of Warsaw), on modeling the evolution of sustainable behaviors, institutions and social-ecological systems.

My methodological research focuses on honing and testing the CMLS theory across numerous social-ecological cases, with different levels of data richness. The fundamental methodological question is “How can we measure the evolution of sustainable behaviors, institutions, and societies?” For this effort, Jeremy Brooks (OSU) and I lead a SESYNC working group of interdisciplinary scholars building and testing empirical methods using the evolutionary theories of culture and cooperation, the results of which will appear in a special issue of Sustainability Science in late 2017. My NSF CAREER grant on the Evolution of Local Food Organizations, integrates theory, empirics and outreach more tightly with a comprehensive study of self-organized, cooperative food buying clubs. The project explores how cooperation dynamics influence economic outcomes, environmental preferences, and social solidarity. I have used economic experiments to measure cooperation in a village irrigation system in rural Tamil Nadu (Waring and Bell, 2013), in researcher-community relations (Waring et al., 2014), and in local food cooperatives (Tremblay and Waring, in revision). I have also used a longitudinal survey of university students to measure the relationship between environmental sentiment, general prosociality, and experienced social support over time and space in Maine (Waring et al., 2016). I work in R and open-source software.

My applied research program, driven by the land grant mission of the University of Maine, has focused on the Maine context. Supported by an NSF Track II EPSCOR sustainability grant, and the Maine Agriculture and Forest Experiment Station, my applied research focuses on developing and maintaining cooperative and sustainable behaviors and institutions in Maine’s natural resource industries. This work has included academic publications applying the multilevel selection framework to Maine’s lobster industry (with Acheson), Maine’s blueberry industry (Hanes and Waring, International Journal of the Commons, submitted), as well as a pioneering use of agent-based modeling in production forestry (Hiesl et al., 2015). Recent policy focused efforts center on the role of cooperation in Maine’s emerging local food economy, with a paper in Maine Policy Review (Waring and Tremblay, 2014), and an advisory role with the Maine Food Strategy policy non-profit, through which I have contributed to policy and technical reports and a statewide Food Summit.

Selected Publications

* For a complete list of publications, visit: timwaring.wordpress.com/publications/

Timothy M. Waring, Goff, S.H., & Smaldino P.E. (2017) The coevolution of economic institutions and sustainable consumption via cultural group selection. Ecological Economics, 131 524–532 [pdf, model, online with sensitivity analysis]

Waring, T. M., Sullivan, A. and Stapp, J. (2016) Campus prosociality as a sustainability indicator International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. 17(6), 895 – 916 [online, pre-print PDF]

Richerson, P., Baldini, R., Bell, A., Demps, K., Frost, K., Hillis, V., Mathew, S., Newton, E., Narr, N., Newson, L., Ross, C., Smaldino, P., Waring, T., Zefferman, M., (2016). Cultural group selection plays an essential role in explaining human cooperation: A sketch of the evidence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e30 (19 pages). [pdf]

Waring, T. M., M. Ann Kline, J. S. Brooks, S. H. Goff, J. Gowdy, M. A. Janssen, P. E. Smaldino and J. Jacquet. 2015. A multilevel evolutionary framework for sustainability analysis. Ecology and Society 20 (2): 34. [online, pdf]

Tremblay, Ethan, and T. M. Waring. A Smiling Face Is Half The Meal: The Role of Cooperation in Sustaining Maine’s Local Food Industry. Maine Policy Review 23.2 (2014) : 43 -50 [online, pdf]

Janssen, M. A., A. Lee and T. M. Waring. 2014. Experimental platforms for behavioral experiments on social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 19 (4): 20. [online, pdf]

Waring, T.M. & Bell, A.V. (2013) Ethnic dominance damages cooperation more than ethnic diversity: results from multi-ethnic field experiments in India. Evolution and Human Behavior, (34) pp. 398-404. [pdf]

Waring, T. M. (2012). Cooperation dynamics in a multi-ethnic society: a case study from Tamil Nadu. Current Anthropology, 53(5),642-649. [pdf]

Waring, T. M. (2011). Ethnic Forces in Collective Action: Diversity, Dominance, and Irrigation in Tamil Nadu. Ecology and Society, 16(4), 1. [pdf]

Waring, T., M., & Richerson, P. J. (2011). Towards Unification of the Socio-Ecological Sciences: The value of coupled models. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 93(4). [pdf]

Waring, T. M. (2010). New evolutionary foundations: Theoretical requirements for a science of sustainability. Ecological Economics, 69, 718–730. [pdf]