Social-Ecological Processes and Dynamics of Urban Forests as Green Stormwater Infrastructure in Maryland, USA

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Urban trees are part of social-ecological systems shaped by the interactions between human components (e.g., communities, management practices, and sociodemographic characteristics) and ecological components (e.g., trees, microclimate, and soil). This dissertation investigated the social-ecological factors that shape urban trees and forest outcomes. Urban trees can reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate flood risk, increase infiltration and water storage capacity in the soil, reduce nutrient loading, and improve water quality in developed areas. This dissertation begins by quantifying the influence of management context (single vs. clustered vs. closed canopy trees) on the transpiration of red maple (Acer rubrum L.), sweetgum (L. styraciflua L), and tulip poplar (L. tulipifera L.) trees as well as the relationship between tree transpiration and environmental drivers (vapor pressure deficit and soil moisture) in Baltimore and Montgomery County, MD. Results showed significantly lower transpiration rates in closed-canopy trees when compared to solitary trees. No significant differences were observed between transpiration rates across tree species in the closed canopy site during the growing seasons of 2018 and 2019. However, species differences in sap flux density were observed at the 24-h time-scale with tulip poplar trees being the most sensitive to drought. In addition to the ecological characteristics of urban forests, it is necessary to take into consideration the human factors and the resulting outcomes (e.g., tree canopy cover and green stormwater infrastructure distribution) for a better understanding of such complex social-ecological systems. Using regression models, spatial patterns and relationships between biophysical, social, and built components were explored at the neighborhood scale in Baltimore, MD. Results showed that the presence of voluntary green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) was positively associated with stewardship activity related to GSI. Median household income and race were significantly associated with the presence of regulatory GSI, and percent impervious cover was a significant predictor for the presence of voluntary GSI. The findings from this dissertation can aid the development and refining of stormwater crediting programs as urban trees can be more accurately incorporated into planning efforts. This dissertation also provides insights on how environmental stewardship and socio-demographics relate to landscape characteristics and informs future research directions regarding social-ecological systems.