Alliance for Community Trees News

Student Researchers Share Secrets Of Tree Survival

By Conni Kunzler | July 24, 2017

Source: Cyrus Moulton, “Clark students share secrets of tree survival after beetle scourge,” Telegram

Worcester, MA (July 16, 2017) – Last summer, a group of Clark University students set out across the city to check on 850 trees planted in the wake of the Asian longhorned beetle infestation. This summer, the students checked on trees planted under a state Department of Conservation and Recreation initiative called Greening the Gateway Cities. Here’s what they found.

After thousands of trees were removed in Worcester in an effort to eradicate the Asian longhorned beetles, “there was a really aggressive replanting effort to compensate for the canopy that was lost, and this was kind of a perfect case study to display to the state that urban forestry at a large citywide scale was not only feasible but could be effective in bringing together residents, government, and local institutions and nonprofits,” said Miles-Philbert Weule Chandler, 21, a rising senior at Clark, in an interview Wednesday. “They saw the success of Worcester and thought that they could bring these benefits to other places in the commonwealth.”

The students are participants in Clark’s Human-Environment Regional Observatory fellowship program, which partners undergraduate and graduate students and faculty on a research project involving human-environmental interactions.

For the past five years, the program has focused on Worcester’s response to the invasive Asian longhorned beetle, which, since 2008, has led to the removal of 35,000 trees in the region and the replanting of 30,000 more.

In 2016, the students traversed Worcester checking on, and recording the health of, trees planted by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Worcester Tree Initiative in the wake of the beetle infestation.

This summer, the students checked on trees planted under a state Department of Conservation and Recreation initiative called Greening the Gateway Cities. The initiative, which targets 13 of the state’s 26 Gateway Cities, aims to use tree plantings to reduce energy use in urban neighborhoods and lower heating and cooling costs for residents and businesses, according to the DCR. The program sets a goal of increasing the urban tree canopy by 10 percent in selected neighborhoods in Gateway Cities.

The students examined 1,390 trees in Chelsea, Revere and Holyoke, creating an inventory of the trees that records such information as the tree species, general health, diameter at breast height, height and crown spread, and more.

They recently presented the results of their survey effort. The students said they learned a lot about what species of trees were particularly successful in the urban environment (honey locusts and crab apples did very well; dogwoods, not so much) as well as the conditions that led to success.

Interestingly, trees planted in areas that were already being maintained – such as parks – did not survive as well as street trees, the students found. They attributed this to regular but shallow watering and damage from mowing and weed whacking.

Parks workers are “taking care of grass more than trees,” said Eli Baldwin, 20, a junior at Clark.

Street trees also did better than those planted on private property, which students said could reflect more regular and effective watering by the DCR and municipal public works departments.

For instance, 94 percent of the street trees planted as part of the initiative in Revere and watered by the DCR survived, while tree survivorship was 81 percent overall across the three cities.

Derek Lirange, a community forester with the Worcester Tree Initiative who attended the presentation, said he was surprised that street trees survived so much better than trees on private property.

But other conclusions about successful tree species were generally in line with what he had seen in Worcester. He also agreed with the students that in many parks, there is a disconnect between who plants the trees and who takes care of them.

“When you put the tree in the ground yourself, you care a lot more about the outcome,” Mr. Lirange said.

John Rogan, professor of geography and co-director of the HERO program with geography professor Deborah Martin, said the Clark students’ work will provide pilot-study data for research proposed for the National Science Foundation. The data will also be used by graduate students for their own thesis work.

Moreover, the work demonstrates that the surveying methods and stewardship model developed in Worcester can be replicated. “We’re working at a citywide basis and moving to a statewide basis,” Mr. Rogan said.

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