The provision of ecosystem services is a prominent rationale for urban greening, and there is a prevailing mantra that ‘trees are good’. However, understanding how urban trees contribute to sustainability must also consider disservices. In this perspective article, we discuss recent research on ecosystem disservices of urban trees, including infrastructure conflicts, health and safety impacts, aesthetic issues, and environmentally detrimental consequences, as well as management costs related to ecological disturbances and risk management. We also discuss tradeoffs regarding species selection and local conservation concerns, as well as the central role of human perception in the interpretation of ecosystem services and disservices, particularly the uncritical assertion that ‘everybody loves trees’. Urban forestry decision-making that fails to account for disservices can have unintended negative consequences for communities. Further research is needed regarding life cycle assessments, stakeholder decision-making, return-on-investment, and framings of services and disservices in urban forestry.
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We thank our professional colleagues in arboriculture and urban forestry whose dedication to caring for city trees inspires our work, and for numerous discussions over the years that relate to this manuscript. We also appreciate critiques on an earlier version of this manuscript from JG Henning and anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875 (National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, DH Locke) and DEB-1924288 (GD Jenerette), as well as the Australian Research Council (Linkage Partnership LP160100780, C Ordóñez). The opinions and findings expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of funders, and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or US Government determination or policy.
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Roman, L.A., Conway, T.M., Eisenman, T.S. et al. Beyond ‘trees are good’: Disservices, management costs, and tradeoffs in urban forestry. Ambio 50, 615–630 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-020-01396-8
- Ecosystem disservices
- Green infrastructure
- Negative synergies
- Positive synergies
- Urban ecosystems
- Urban sustainability