February 23, 2018
A media release provided by the University of Utah’s science writer Paul Gabrielsen said “Utah’s early residents would be surprised to see the canopy of trees that covers the Salt Lake Valley today. Few trees are native to the valley, which means that most of the trees present there today are imported. It’s a much different situation from a natural forest, which is shaped by climate, water availability and biodiversity.
The article goes on to add that “tree species diversity can be shaped by the species available in nurseries, the preferences of the homeowners, and even the tree selections of their neighbors. ‘Ecology started out as a descriptive discipline,’ Pataki says. ‘You want to understand why you see the distribution of species that you do. This paper states what is out there in Salt Lake, and makes the best attempt we can to figure out why.’
Urban ecology incorporates social science into ecology and is a relatively unexplored field. So, Pataki and Avolio didn’t have much precedent to go on when designing their study. They began by looking at comparable neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley and chose nine neighborhoods representing combinations of median home age (pre-1939, 1951-1970 and 1985-2005) and median household income (less than $45K, $45-85K and more than $85K). From those neighborhoods, they chose five or six blocks to survey, and sent postcard surveys to homeowners, followed up with in-person visits in 2014. The researchers were looking at the tree species present both in homeowner’s yards and in streets. In the homeowner surveys, researchers asked what people liked about the trees in their yard, and what factors led them to remove trees."
Findings also show “that yards and neighborhoods close to each other had more similar species patterns, suggesting that neighborhoods have distinctive landscape identities. ‘These landscape identities likely contribute to the role that trees have in creating a sense of place,’ the team writes, ‘whereby people form a bond with specific trees and with the attributes of a place that trees help create.’ Pataki adds: ‘When you walk through a forest, you see different environments. That’s probably driven by soil characteristics or slope. Maybe in neighborhoods, people influence each other’s plant preferences.’”
Former U postdoctoral scholar Meghan Avolio, now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Tara L.E. Trammell from the University of Delaware were also co-authors of this study. The National-Socio Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) supported this research. While not an iUTAH-funded activity, the study relates to urban sustainability in Utah.
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