An experiment to measure the social and ecological impact of urban tree loss

Authors: Caragh Threlfall, University of Sydney, Stephen John Livesley, University of Melbourne, Camilo Ordonez*, University of Toronto, Tenley Conway, University of Toronto, Dave Kendal, University of Tasmania
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Environmental Science, Urban Geography
Keywords: socio-ecological systems, urban forests, biodiversity, social perception
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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Many world cities have plans to increase tree numbers and canopy cover. However, cities often struggle to articulate the social and ecological benefits of urban trees. Advances in experimental socio-ecological research are needed to understand the combined social and ecological benefits of urban trees. Experimentally measuring the ecological and social effects of urban tree loss can tell us a great deal about urban tree benefits. We present an experimental approach to measure how wildlife abundance (i.e., bird, mammal, and herbivory abundance) and people’s experiences (i.e., people’s perceptions of and contact with urban trees) change over time as trees are removed from parks and streets. We describe how this approach can be empirically applied to data collected from sites where trees are to be removed (impact sites) and comparable sites without any tree removal (control sites), before and after tree removal (i.e., Before-After-Control-Impact design). We then describe how the data collected could be analysed and used to generate new knowledge about how biodiversity and people’s experiences change over time as urban trees are lost. We discuss how this new socio-ecological experimental approach can help us generate new evidence based on processes over time rather than descriptions and correlations at one point in time – which is the case for most urban socio-ecological research. We also discuss how this research can give cities the tools to quantify and understand the social and ecological impact of urban tree loss, a critical issue in a world facing climate change.

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