Understanding How Trees Respond to Their Urban Environment

By Sharon Danielson, Doctoral Graduate Student

As urban areas expand, they leave isolated forest patches in their wake. The effects of urban areas such as higher temperatures, water flow changes, and increased pollution are not limited to the city, however, and can cause a ripple effect through the surrounding areas. I want to know how forests are shaped by their neighboring cities. I study the anatomical and physiological traits of trees that will help us understand if, and how, trees are able to respond to the urban environment. I also plan to investigate one of the most under-studied aspects of urban forests—Can the seedlings from urban trees, such as the red maples shown in the photos here, inherit traits from their parents that differ from those in rural forests? To do this I am collecting samaras (maple seeds) from red maple trees growing in urban and rural forests. I will grow them in a greenhouse and, when the seedlings have grown, I will see how they differ in leaf structure and function. This is the very first step to exploring how urban forests of the future will function.


Sharon Danielson is a PhD candidate at Case Western Reserve and the Holden Arboretum. She is advised by Dr. Juliana Medeiros and studies plant physiology, ecology and evolution. You can track her research on her twitter account @sc_danielson.