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Meeting attendees sit in a conference room

Tree experts connect over urban forests

We know a good bit about forests, and the factors that make a healthy one. But what about the trees that live across an urban landscape?


This was the general question posed at a recent meeting of tree experts on the University of Georgia campus. Researchers from around the world gathered to dig into urban forests and how to keep them healthy at the inaugural meeting of the Urban Trees Ecophysiology Network at the UGA Center for Continuing Education and Hotel.


Dan Johnson, associate professor of tree physiology and forest ecology at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, organized the meeting with fellow researcher Yakir Preisler of the Volcani Institute in Israel. The goal was to connect experts in tree biology with arborists focused on trees in urban and suburban environments.


“The meeting had some structure, with sessions over two days, but it’s also just an opportunity to get everyone in a room and see what sticks,” said Johnson. 


The meeting came about after experts realized the opportunities for better understanding trees in urban environments. While arborists can diagnose disease and decay, the causes of these issues are often different than how a tree dies in a forest. This was a chance for tree biologists to collaborate on this new set of problems.


As a result, more than 30 people gathered in-person and virtually to take on topics such as urban soils, defining a healthy forest environment in a city, using technology to diagnose urban tree issues and best practices for planting urban trees. The meeting also included a variety of small-group sessions that allowed participants to brainstorm specific questions or research ideas.


The scientists took on several areas of interest. For example, better understanding of soil and root systems can help trees get a good start in a built environment. Others discussed how trees function and their lifespan. Also, there’s the question of the pests that can affect trees, and how that might differ from a more rural setting.


While it was just the first meeting of the Urban Trees Ecophysiology Network, it was a good starting point, Johnson said.


“This was the first time we had ever gotten together in a room, but it really underscores the new opportunities this presents,” said Johnson. “Trees in urban landscapes are valuable, and we all want them to thrive. This meeting kicked off what we hope will be more connections and research in this growing field.” 


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