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Urbanization effects on tree growth in the vicinity of New York City


Plants in urban ecosystems are exposed to many pollutants and higher temperatures, CO2 and nitrogen deposition than plants in rural areas1,2,3,4,5. Although each factor has a detrimental or beneficial influence on plant growth6, the net effect of all factors and the key driving variables are unknown. We grew the same cottonwood clone in urban and rural sites and found that urban plant biomass was double that of rural sites. Using soil transplants, nutrient budgets, chamber experiments and multiple regression analyses, we show that soils, temperature, CO2, nutrient deposition, urban air pollutants and microclimatic variables could not account for increased growth in the city. Rather, higher rural ozone (O3) exposures reduced growth at rural sites. Urban precursors fuel the reactions of O3 formation, but NOx scavenging reactions7 resulted in lower cumulative urban O3 exposures compared to agricultural and forested sites throughout the northeastern USA. Our study shows the overriding effect of O3 despite a diversity of altered environmental factors, reveals ‘footprints’ of lower cumulative urban O3 exposures amidst a background of higher regional exposures, and shows a greater adverse effect of urban pollutant emissions beyond the urban core.

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Figure 1: Cottonwood growth in urban and rural sites.
Figure 2: Cottonwood biomass related to O3 exposure.
Figure 3: Urban and rural O3 exposures in the northeastern USA.

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M. McDonnell, R. Pouyat, S. Pickett, A. Greller, G. Lovett, M. Geber and P. Marks provided discussions at the outset of this research. C. Andersen, J. Compton, A. Hudak, J. Laurence, H. Lee, D. Phillips, P. Rygiewicz, A. Solomon and D. Tingey provided discussions and editorial feedback. H. Lee provided EPA O3 data and statistical consultation. P. Dickerson created the inverse-distance weighted O3 map. M. Topa oversaw the open-top chamber experiment. Organizations listed in the Methods provided site access, forest soils and technical assistance. Financial support was provided to J.W.G. by the Edna Bailey Sussman Fund for Environmental Internships, the New York State Heritage Foundation, a Cornell University Mellon Research Grant, the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Cornell's Department of Ecology and Systematics, a Mellon Foundation graduate training grant (to T.E.D.), the Cornell Center for the Environment, Sigma Xi and a US EPA post doctoral fellowship.

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Correspondence to Jillian W. Gregg.

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Gregg, J., Jones, C. & Dawson, T. Urbanization effects on tree growth in the vicinity of New York City. Nature 424, 183–187 (2003).

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