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The potential of indigenous agricultural food production under climate change in Hawaiʻi


The value of land-use strategies that increase food production while conserving biodiversity is widely recognized. Many indigenous agroecosystems are productive, adaptive and ecologically principled, but are largely overlooked by planning in terms of their potential to meet current and future food needs. We developed spatial distribution models of indigenous agroecosystems in Hawai‘i to identify their potential past distribution, productive and carrying capacities, and future potential under current land-use and mild-to-severe future climate scenarios. Our results suggest that Hawaiʻi’s traditional agroecosystems could have had production levels comparable to consumption today. Carrying capacity estimates support hypotheses of large pre-colonial Hawaiian populations (>800,000). Urban development has reduced (−13%) traditional agroecosystems but 71% remain agriculturally zoned. Projected effects of three future climate scenarios vary from no change in potential production to decreases of 19% in the driest and warmest end-of-century scenario. This study highlights the food-producing potential of indigenous agriculture even under land-use and climate changes, and the value of their restoration into the future.

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Fig. 1: Modelled spatial distribution of pre-colonial indigenous agriculture systems across the Hawaiian Islands.
Fig. 2: Estimated area and production of pre-colonial indigenous agriculture systems in Hawaiʻi.
Fig. 3: Area and land use of potential indigenous Hawaiian agricultural areas under climate scenarios.
Fig. 4: Resilient indigenous agriculture areas across the Hawaiian islands.

Data availability

The data and R scripts that support the findings of this study, as well as the resulting data layers are available at the University of Hawaiʻi data repository:


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This research was supported by the Ford Foundation Fellowships Program, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Kohala Center, Kamehameha Schools, and the USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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N.K. conceptualized the study, N.K., T.T. and L.F. designed the study, N.K. performed all of the analyses and L.F. assisted in editing R code analyses. N.K. formulated results and discussion. N.K. prepared the draft manuscript, N.K., T.T. and L.K. reviewed and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Natalie Kurashima.

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Supplementary Notes, Supplementary References 1–23, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–3

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Kurashima, N., Fortini, L. & Ticktin, T. The potential of indigenous agricultural food production under climate change in Hawaiʻi. Nat Sustain 2, 191–199 (2019).

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