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The effect of urbanization gradients and forest types on microclimatic regulation by trees, in association with climate, tree sizes and species compositions in Harbin city, northeastern China

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Rapid urbanization and climate change require stronger microclimatic regulation by urban trees, and maximizing their cooling, humidifying, and shading functions requires an exact understanding of the underlying mechanisms affected by climatic conditions and the forest characteristics. By measuring different aspects of microclimate regulation by urban trees in 165 plots in Harbin city and measuring climatic conditions, tree size, and compositional differences, we define changes in patterns along various urban-rural gradients (ring-road development and urban history) and for different forest types and decoupling the complex associations among them. We found that the horizontal cooling (1.7 °C to 4.0 °C) was larger than the vertical cooling (−1.71 °C to 0.33 °C) and soil cooling (0.28 °C to 2.17 °C); The humidifying effect (ΔRH) ranged from −0.34% to 7.30%, and total radiation intercepted (ΔE) ranged from 11.07 kLux to 45.95 kLux. We also found higher under-branch height, larger canopy, and higher percentage of Ulmaceae, but lower percentage of Salicaceae in more urbanized regions. The relative importance of tree compositions and size on microclimatic regulation was shown using redundancy analysis (RDA), and RDA variation partitioning showed that tree sizes explained 24.7% of the variations in the microclimate regulations, and tree composition and their interactions with climatic conditions explained 9.5% and 25.4% of the variations, respectively. Our findings reveal that maximizing microclimatic regulation by urban forests in northeastern China could possibly be achieved through specific-function-oriented afforestation and an increase conservation of large existing trees, and the data in this paper could favor policy decision of urban forest manager and local administration of urban green infrastructure.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3



affiliated forest. Mainly found in schools


university and residential areas


roadside forest. Mainly along streets in urban regions


Landscape and relaxation forest. Mainly in parks and botanical gardens


Ecological and public welfare forest. Distributed mainly in urban-rural integration areas of farmland protection forest, and other protected coastal estuarine or water supply areas


outside radiation - under-canopy radiation

Shading (%):

ΔE/outside radiation × 100%

Horizontal cooling ΔT1 :

outside forest Tair - forest floor Tair

Vertical cooling ΔT2 :

canopy Tair - under canopy Tair

Soil cooling ΔT3 :

outside forest Tsoil - forest floor Tsoil

Humidifying effect ΔRH:

forest floor RH - outside forest RH


redundancy analysis


diameter at breast height


solar radiation outside forest shade

Tair :

air temperature outside forest shade


air relative humidity outside forest shade

Tsoil :

soil temperature at 5 cm


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This study was supported financially by the National Science Foundation of China (3167069; 41730641), Basic-research fund for Central Universities (2572017DG04), Longjiang Scholar fund from Northeast Forestry University (T201702).

Author information

Correspondence to Wenjie Wang.

Additional information


1. Microclimatic regulation by urban trees were measured in a Chinese city of Harbin.

2. Urbanized regions had less microclimatic canopy cooling and radiation interception.

3. Tree size and composition and climatic conditions explained most of the variation of microclimate regulation.

4. Conserving large trees and careful afforestation can maximize the regulation.



Fig. 4

Linear relations between urban-rural gradients and microclimate regulations. Left: ringroad gradient; right: urban history gradient. Line in the figures are linear regression. Dash lines are lines of p > 0.05; solid lines are lines of p < 0.05

Fig. 5

RDA results on the relations between microclimate regulations and climatic conditions (a), between microclimate regulations and tree sizes (b) and between microclimate regulations and tree compositional traits (c)

Table 4 Results of seven steps for the analysis “Var-part-3groups-Conditional-effects-tested”
Table 5 Pearson correlations between microclimate regulating functions and tree sizes, compositional changes and climatic conditions outside forests
Table 6 Stepwise regressions between climatic regulation functions and various factors related with family compositions, tree sizes and outside-forest climatic conditions

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Wang, W., Zhang, B., Zhou, W. et al. The effect of urbanization gradients and forest types on microclimatic regulation by trees, in association with climate, tree sizes and species compositions in Harbin city, northeastern China. Urban Ecosyst 22, 367–384 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-019-0823-9

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  • Affiliated forest
  • Climate differences
  • Ecological welfare forest
  • Landscape forest
  • Ring road urban-rural gradient
  • Roadside forest