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Urban forest fragments buffer trees from warming and pests

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Long, Lawrence C.; D'Amico, Vincent ; Frank, Steven D.

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Science of The Total Environment


Trees are important components of urban landscapes because of the ecosystem services they provide. However, the effects of urbanization, particularly high temperatures, can benefit chronic insect pests and threaten ecosystem services offered by urban trees. Urban forest fragments are an often-overlooked component of the greater urban forest which may help to mitigate the damaging effects of urbanization. Melanaspis tenebricosa (gloomy scale) is a common pest of Acer rubrum (red maple) that becomes more abundant because of the urban heat island effect. We conducted observational and manipulative field experiments to test the hypothesis that trees in urban forest fragments would be cooler than those in surrounding ornamental landscapes and would thus have fewer M. tenebricosa, particularly in a hot mid-latitude city. Trees in forest fragments were 1.3° cooler and had three orders of magnitude fewer M. tenebricosa than trees in ornamental landscapes in Raleigh, NC USA. However, there was no difference in M. tenebricosa density between forest and landscape trees in Newark, DE and Philadelphia, PA USA which are 3.95 degrees of latitude higher, and nearer to the northern range extent. Trees in landscapes and forest fragments did not differ in predawn water potential, a measure of water stress, but likely differed in soil composition and moisture. We used potted trees to control for these differences and found that M. tenebricosa density still increased three times more in landscapes than forests suggesting temperature and not tree stress is the dominant factor. Taken together our results indicate two things. First, that trees growing in urban forest fragments are buffered from a chronic urban tree pest due to lower temperatures. Second, that temperature-driven differences in M. tenebricosa density which we saw in Raleigh could predict future density of the pest in higher latitude cities as the climate warms.


Forest fragments; Herbivory; Trees; Urban heat island effect; Warming; Scale insects


Long, Lawrence C.; D'Amico, Vincent; Frank, Steven D. 2019. Urban forest fragments buffer trees from warming and pests. Science of The Total Environment. 658(3): 1523-1530.

Last updated on: October 1, 2021