A group of researchers in the Pacific Northwest are collecting data from trees in urban areas, hoping to use the data to predict the impact of climate change on urban tree populations.
Portland State University graduate and postdoctoral researcher Hannah Prather pulls on her climbing harness, the final piece of equipment, carabiners clinked together in a cascade of metallic tones. She is ready for her 100-foot ascent into the canopy.
Prather is part of a team of researchers from Portland State, Reed College, Washington State University, and The Nature Conservancy studying the impact of climate change on urban trees. Todd Rosenstiel, biology professor and dean of PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, helps lead the work known informally as the Smart Trees Collaborative.
The results help researchers understand how the trees might adjust to some impacts of climate change. For example, Douglas-firs might be able to shorten the time they open pores on their needles to collect CO2 because there is so much of it in urban environments. The shorter duration also means losing less water, which becomes critical during times of drought. Other species, such as western redcedar, may not be able to make these types of adjustments as quickly.
Researchers are also monitoring western redcedar around Portland using on-site measurements and remote sensing to better understand their health. In the future, the city might be able to use this data to develop management techniques, such as a watering schedule based on the trees’ exact needs, the way some farmers use sensors to irrigate crops.
Longer term, the team hopes that Smart Trees will become a model for new and impactful ways to collaborate across cities, states, and institutions. Rosenstiel will soon lead the first summit on western redcedar decline, bringing researchers together from across the Pacific Northwest. Their findings could help ensure the survival of that tree species as well as others.