A Social-Ecological Analysis of Urban Tree Vulnerability for Publicly Owned Trees in a Residential Neighborhood
James W. N. Steenberg, Andrew A. Millward, David J. Nowak, Pamela J. Robinson, and Sandy M. Smith
Abstract: The urban forest is a valuable ecosystem service provider, yet cities are frequently degraded environments with a myriad of stressors and disturbances affecting trees. Vulnerability science is increasingly used to explore issues of sustainability in complex social-ecological systems, and can be a useful approach for assessing urban forests. The purpose of this study was to identify and explore drivers of urban forest vulnerability in a residential neighborhood. Based on a recently published framework of urban forest vulnerability, a series of indicators of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity that describe the built environment, urban forest structure, and human population, respectively, were assessed for 806 trees in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Tree mortality, condition, and diameter growth rates were then assessed using an existing 2007/2008 inventory. A bivariate analysis was first conducted to test for significant relationships of vulnerability indicators with mortality, condition, and growth. A multivariate analysis was then conducted using multiple linear regression for the continuous condition and growth variables and a multilayer perceptron neural network for the binary mortality variable. Commercial land uses and commercial buildings adjacent to trees consistently explained higher mortality rates and poor tree conditions. However, at finer spatial scales it is important to differentiate between different causes and correlates of urban forest decline within commercial land uses. Tree species, size, and condition were also important indicators of vulnerability. Understanding the causes of urban forest change and decline are essential for developing planning strategies to reduce long-term system vulnerability.
Keywords: A Social-Ecological Analysis of Urban Tree Vulnerability for Publicly Owned Trees in a Residential Neighborhood