Diné kinship as a framework for conserving native tree species in climate change

Jaime O. Yazzie, Peter Z. Fulé, Yeon Su Kim, Andrew Sánchez Meador

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Climate change affects all ecosystems but despite increasing recognition for the needs to integrate Indigenous knowledge with modern climate science, the epistemological differences between the two make it challenging. In this study, we present how Indigenous belief and knowledge system can frame the application of a modeling tool (Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator). We focus on managing forest ecosystem services of the Diné (Navajo) Nation as a case study. Most Diné tribal members depend directly on the land for their livelihoods and cultural traditions. The forest plays a vital role in Diné livelihoods through social, cultural, spiritual, subsistence, and economic factors. We simulated forest dynamics over time under alternative climate change scenarios and management strategies to identify forest management strategies that will maintain future ecosystem services. We initialized the Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator model with data from permanent plots and site-specific growth models under multiple management systems (no-management, thinning, burning, and assisted migration planting) and different climate scenarios (no-climate-change, RCP 4.5, RCP 6.0). Projections of climate change show average losses of basal area by over 65% by 2105, a shift in tree species composition to drier-adapted species, and a decrease in species diversity. While substantial forest loss was inevitable under the warming climate scenarios, the modeling framework allowed us to evaluate the management treatments, including planting, for conserving multiple tree species in mixed conifer forests, thus providing an anchor for biodiversity. We presented the modeling results and management implications and discuss how they can complement Diné kinship concepts. Our approach is a useful step for framing modern science with Indigenous Knowledge and for developing improved strategies to sustain natural resources and livelihoods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01944
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Arizona
  • Navajo
  • New Mexico
  • climate–forest vegetation simulator
  • fire
  • indigenous community
  • resilience
  • tree diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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