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Modeling airborne pollen concentrations at an urban scale with pollen release from individual trees

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Airborne pollen can trigger allergic reactions, but exposure is poorly understood because neither regional pollen models nor monitoring networks adequately capture the extensive spatial variation in pollen concentrations observed at urban scales. Here, we test whether pollen emissions from individual source plants can predict spatial variation in airborne pollen at scales of hundreds of meters to kilometers. To do so, we quantified pollen release within a city for oaks (Quercus) by mapping individual trees using remote sensing, calculating each tree’s pollen production with allometric equations, and estimating the timing of flowering with satellite-derived temperature data. We also measured airborne pollen concentrations multiple times a week at 9 sites in the first year and at 15 sites in the second year. Predicted pollen release explained 86% of the spatial variation in measured airborne pollen across the pollen season and 55% of local airborne pollen concentrations on any given day, whereas a traditional monitoring station measurements explained only 34% of spatiotemporal variation. Airborne pollen was best predicted by pollen release within approximately 1–2 km. Our results demonstrate that airborne pollen can be effectively modeled within cities by quantifying pollen release from individual trees. This type of approach could potentially be applied elsewhere, improving predictions of airborne pollen within cities and providing opportunities to avoid allergen exposure, fine-tune medication use, and better inform tree management decisions.

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This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences through a NRSA postdoctoral fellowship (Grant Number F32 ES026477). It was also supported by the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research through the Postdoctoral Translational Scholars Program (Grant Number UL1 TR002240). S. Batterman also acknowledges support from Grant P30ES017885 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We thank John Kost, Victoria Bankowski, and Jonathan Morris for their assistance collecting and processing samples, Shannon Brines for help with remote sensing analyses, Dr. Andrew Dzul and Amber Kendel of Lakeshore Ear, Nose, and Throat for providing access to their pollen monitoring data, and the volunteers in Detroit who allowed us to monitor pollen on their properties. We also thank Drs. Inés Ibáñez, Elizabeth Matsui, Shalene Jha, Marian Schmidt, and Deborah Goldberg and their laboratories for feedback on this research project and manuscript.

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DK led all phases of the study with advising and review by SB. AB provided additional input on study conception, design, and implications.

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Correspondence to Daniel S. W. Katz.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

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Katz, D.S.W., Baptist, A.P. & Batterman, S.A. Modeling airborne pollen concentrations at an urban scale with pollen release from individual trees. Aerobiologia 39, 181–193 (2023).

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