Conservation begins after breakfast: The relative importance of opportunity cost and identity in shaping private landholder participation in conservation.
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The conservation opportunity literature increasingly emphasises opportunity cost as an important determinant of willingness to engage in conservation on private land. We investigated the explanatory power of a group of opportunity cost variables in the decision to participate in a landscape-level conservation initiative on the Agulhas Plain, Cape Floristic Region. Opportunity cost variables outperformed affiliation and demographic variables when used in one model and had almost as much explanatory power as the combined model when used on their own. In the opportunity cost model, conservation was positively related to farm size and education and negatively related to share of income from farming and size of the remnant of natural vegetation on the farm. Of these relationships, that between education and participation was the most elastic: a 1% increase in education led to an almost 2% increase in the likelihood of participating in conservation. A large group of identity variables jointly explained nothing, but a subset of age, gender and Afrikaans language status had some explanatory power when used separately. We suspected this subset of demographic variables to have done nothing but proxy patterns of opportunity cost in the farming community. When re-estimated with the untransformed remnant as a share of farm size rather than an area, similar results were obtained and the negative sign on the remnant was confirmed. We concluded that understanding what opportunity cost conservation imposes on private landholders is not only important, but critical, for predicting which private land will come into and stay in conservation.