Urban forest biomass estimates: is it important to use allometric relationships developed specifically for urban trees?
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- McHale, M.R., Burke, I.C., Lefsky, M.A. et al. Urban Ecosyst (2009) 12: 95. doi:10.1007/s11252-009-0081-3
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Many studies have analyzed the benefits, costs, and carbon storage capacity associated with urban trees. These studies have been limited by a lack of research on urban tree biomass, such that estimates of carbon storage in urban systems have relied upon allometric relationships developed in traditional forests. As urbanization increases globally, it is becoming important to more accurately evaluate carbon dynamics in these systems. Our goal was to understand the variability and range of potential error associated with using allometric relationships developed outside of urban environments. We compared biomass predictions from allometric relationships developed for urban trees in Fort Collins, Colorado to predictions from allometric equations from traditional forests, at both the individual species level and entire communities. A few of the equations from the literature predicted similar biomass to the urban-based predictions, but the range in variability for individual trees was over 300%. This variability declined at increasingly coarse scales, reaching as low as 60% for a street tree community containing 11 tree species and 10, 551 trees. When comparing biomass estimates between cities that implement various allometric relationships, we found that differences could be a function of variability rather than urban forest structure and function. Standardizing the methodology and implementing averaged equations across cities could be one potential solution to reducing variability; however, more accurate quantification of biomass and carbon storage in urban forests may depend on development of allometric relationships specifically for urban trees.