By Sudipto Rob, Jason Byrne, and Catherin Pickering
(Queensland, Australia (September 29, 2012) – Urban trees can potentially mitigate environmental degradation accompanying rapid urbanization via a range of tree benefits and services. But uncertainty exists about the extent of tree benefits and services because urban trees also impose costs (e.g. asthma) and may create hazards (e.g. windthrow). Few researchers have systematically assessed how urban tree benefits and costs vary across different cities, geographic scales and climates.
This paper provides a quantitative review of 115 original urban tree studies, examining: (i) research locations, (ii) research methods, and (iii) assessment techniques for tree services and disservices. Researchers published findings in 33 journals from diverse disciplines including: forestry, land use planning, ecology, and economics. Research has been geographically concentrated (64% of studies were conducted in North America). Nearly all studies (91.3%) used quantitative research, and most studies (60%) employed natural science methods.
Demonstrated tree benefits include: economic, social, health, visual and aesthetic benefits; identified ecosystem services include: carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, storm water attenuation, and energy conservation. Disservices include: maintenance costs, light attenuation, infrastructure damage and health problems, among others.
Additional research is required to better inform public policy, including comparative assessment of tree services and disservices, and assessment of urban residents and land managers’ understanding of tree benefits and costs.