The extent of urban ecological homogenization depends on how humans build, inhabit, and manage cities. Morphological and socio-economic facets of neighborhoods can drive the homogenization of urban forest cover, thus affecting ecological and hydrological processes, and ecosystem services. Recent evidence, however, suggests that the same biophysical drivers differentiating composition and structure of natural forests can further counteract the homogenization of urban forests. We hypothesize that climate can differentiate forest structure across residential macrosystems at regional-to-continental spatial scales. To test this hypothesis, forest structure (tree and shrub cover and volume) was measured using LiDAR data and multispectral imagery across a residential macrosystem composed 1.4 million residential parcels contained in 9 cities and 1503 neighborhoods. Cities were selected along an evapotranspiration (ET) gradient in the conterminous United States, ranging from the colder continental climate of Fargo, North Dakota (ET = 464.43 mm) to the hotter subtropical climate of Tallahassee, Florida (ET = 1000.47 mm). The relative effects of climate, urban morphology, and socio-economic variables on residential forest structure were assessed by using generalized linear models. Climate differentiated forest structure of the residential macrosystem as hypothesized. Average forest cover doubled along the ET gradient (0.39–0.78 m2 m−2), whereas average forest volume had a threefold increase (2.50–8.12 m3 m−2). Forest volume across neighborhoods increased exponentially with forest cover. Urban morphology had a greater effect in homogenizing forest structure on residential parcels compared to socio-economics. Climate and urban morphology variables best predicted residential forest structure, whereas socio-economic variables had the lowest predictive power. Results indicate that climate can differentiate forest structure across residential macrosystems and may counteract the homogenizing effects of urban morphology and socio-economic drivers at city-wide scales. This resonates with recent empirical work suggesting the existence of complex multi-scalar mechanisms that regulate ecological homogenization and ecosystem convergence among cities. The study initiates high-resolution assessments of forest structure across entire urban macrosystems and breaks new ground for research on the ecological and hydrological significance of urban vegetation at subcontinental scale.
- green infrastructure
- socio-ecological systems
- urban ecology
- urban trees
- urban ecosystem convergence theory