Assessing the vulnerability of Australia’s urban forests to climate extremes

Manuel Esperon-Rodriguez*, Sally A. Power, Mark G. Tjoelker, Linda J. Beaumont, Hugh Burley, Dayenari Caballero-Rodriguez, Paul D. Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)
    74 Downloads (Pure)


    Societal Impact Statement: Urban forests are recognized for the multiple benefits they provide to city-dwellers. However, climate change will affect tree species survival and persistence in urban ecosystems. Tree failures will cause economic losses and jeopardize the delivery of societal benefits. The impacts of climate change will depend on the species’ resilience and adaptive capacity, as well as management actions which may ameliorate some of the negative impacts. Here, we assessed the potential vulnerability of Australia's urban forests to climate extremes. Our results can be used for future urban planning aiming to incorporate species that are well-adapted to the hotter, drier climates expected with climate change. 


    Urban forests (UFs) are recognized for the multiple benefits they provide to city-dwellers. However, global climate change—particularly predicted increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and drought—will affect tree species’ performance and survival in urban ecosystems. 

    Here, we assessed species composition and potential vulnerability of UFs in 22 Australian significant urban areas (SUAs) to heat and/or moisture stress. We quantified species’ realized climatic niches across their known distribution, and assessed the extent to which baseline climate in the SUAs where a particular species is planted fell within its niche. We used three environmental variables to group species based on their potential climate vulnerability. 

    UFs varied in species composition and climate vulnerability across the continent. In general, neither climate similarity nor geographical proximity were good predictors of species composition among UFs. Of 1,342 tree species assessed (68.4% natives), 53% were considered potentially vulnerable to heat and/or moisture stress in at least one city where they are currently planted. 

    Our results highlight the climate vulnerability of current plantings across Australian SUAs and can be used to direct future species selection that considers the species’ climate of origin and climatic niche. UF planning can incorporate species from SUAs with similar climates and with low vulnerability to contemporary, as well as future climate conditions. Species with high climate vulnerability, in contrast, may require more intensive management to avoid failure under future hotter, drier climate conditions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)387-397
    Number of pages11
    JournalPlants People Planet
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • climate change
    • climate niche
    • landscape planting
    • species composition
    • species distribution
    • species selection
    • tree inventory
    • urban planning


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