Trees provide a suite of ecosystem services that improve human and environmental health. However, urban trees are subject to environmental stressors, including increased temperatures and drought, which reduce these services and make tree more susceptible to arthropod pests. The objectives of A Tree’s Life are to understand how climate and urbanization affect tree pests, growth, and health, and thus ecological services like carbon sequestration and air and water filtration. This project was recently funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Southern IPM Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Despite the importance of mature trees, we do not know much about the effects of warming on tree growth and services. This is largely due to the difficulties in experimenting with mature trees; you cannot move trees to warm spots or warm trees with heaters like you can with small plants. Without information on how trees respond to warming and urban stress, there is no basis for selecting tree species and planting sites that will allow trees to thrive with minimal management or intervention.
Urban areas are warmer and often have higher CO2 concentrations than rural areas. Warming and urbanization can reduce tree growth due to water stress, pests, and other factors. On the other hand, warming might increase tree growth and health due to longer growing seasons. These contrasting urban tree responses allow us to use urban warming to predict changes beyond cities that might arise due to global change. Thus, cities may be sentinels that predict how plants and animals respond to climate change.
The goal of A Tree’s Life is to monitor red maple growth in urban, suburban, and rural areas with the help of volunteer citizen scientists. These volunteers will monitor the growth of red maples in their own yards. We will provide the citizen scientists with a dendrometer, which is a tool that measures tree trunk growth without injuring the tree (it will need to remain on the tree for at least a year, hopefully longer). Citizen scientists will report the growth and a few other details about their tree periodically.
Although this seems very simple, it provides valuable data to determine how different altitudes, latitudes, and urban conditions affect tree pests, tree growth, and carbon sequestration. Ultimately, we aspire to have citizens measuring thousands of trees across the country.
If you are interested, please fill out our Participant Sign-up Form
Thank you kindly,
Michael Just on behalf of the A Tree’s Life team