In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Forest Ecology

  • Introduction
  • Overview and Major Works
  • Journals
  • Ecological Disservices of Urban Forests
  • Social-Ecological Interactions

Ecology Urban Forest Ecology
Peter N. Duinker, James W. N. Steenberg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0243


Urban forestry, as the name implies, is a branch of forestry that deals with trees and woodlands in urban areas. Practice in urban forestry may have its foundations in the nineteenth century, but the moniker of urban forestry launched in earnest in the 1970s largely through the contributions of Eric Jorgensen, a professor at the University of Guelph on Ontario, Canada. Urban forestry combines long traditions of science and management in the fields of arboriculture (management of individual trees), silviculture (management of stands of trees), and forestry (management of larger woodlands comprised of many stands). Urban forestry, according to Jorgensen (see Konijnendijk, et al. 2006, cited under Definitions) is “a specialized branch of forestry and has as its objectives the cultivation and management of trees for their present and potential contribution to the physiological, sociological and economic well-being of urban society” (p. 95). This bibliography concentrates on the ecology of urban forests. Given that ecology is the study of organisms and their relationships with the biotic and abiotic environments, one instantly recognizes the fundamental ecological nature upon which urban-forest studies must rest. No trees in the urban ecosystem—whether in the heart of downtown or in the peri-urban outskirts of the town or city, or indeed anywhere between—escape the influence of humans, especially their built infrastructure. So urban forestry as a science and practice cannot help but rest firmly on the foundation of urban forest ecology. However, scoping this domain of science is fraught with pitfalls because the boundaries are unclear, broad, and porous. Much of forest ecology in general pertains to all forests, not just hinterland forests nor timber-producing forests. Equally complicating the scoping problem are the numerous intense relationships between people and trees which justify the notion that urban forests are best understood as social-ecological systems with vital economic and technical dimensions. Hearty thanks to K. E. Turner and C. Ordóñez Barona for assistance in identifying relevant literature, and to an anonymous reviewer for revisions suggestions.

Overview and Major Works

Works on urban forest ecology are not collected into discrete packages such as books or periodicals. Indeed, as this article shows, one finds major publications related to urban forest ecology scattered across a wide range of journals. According to Rowntree 1998, one can trace strong origins of ecological concepts for urban forests back to major 19th- and early-20th-century monographs on human relations with nature. Research on diverse aspects of urban forest ecology, focused as it was in the early days on urban vegetation, has emerged alongside monographs that emphasize tree management in urban settings but cannot help but deal substantially and substantively with contemporary knowledge on a wide range of facets of urban forest ecology. As examples, Arnold 1993; Konijnendijk, et al. 2005; Miller, et al. 2015; Salbitano, et al. 2016; and Ferrini, et al. 2017 are all foundational contributions to our understanding of urban forest ecology. Other major treatises on urban forests, such as Bradley 1995 and Bradshaw, et al. 1995, contain important content about ecology. As Rowntree 1998 explains, key concepts for building a comprehensive understanding of urban forest ecology include structure, function, diversity, dominance, mosaic-gradients, and ecosystems.

  • Arnold, H. 1993. Trees in urban design. 2d ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

    First published in 1980. Covers a suite of principles associated with trees in urban design and continues with extensive coverage of urban geometry as well as tree selection for diverse urban spaces. Final chapters address how to overcome obstacles to fitting trees well into the built environment and encouragements to urban planners to persist.

  • Bradley, G. A. 1995. Urban forest landscapes: Integrating multidisciplinary perspectives. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

    While covering a wide breadth of topics on management of urban forests, the book delivers overviews of several ecological themes such as connectivity, woodland patches, and wildlife habitats.

  • Bradshaw, A., B. Hunt, and T. Walmsley. 1995. Trees in the urban landscape: Principles and practice. London: Spon.

    Deals comprehensively with tree management in urban settings, from cradle to grave. Coverage of ecological topics include chapters on tree biology, urban soils, and tree relationships with built infrastructure.

  • Ferrini, F., C. Konijnendijk van den Bosch, and A. Fini, eds. 2017. Routledge handbook of urban forestry. New York: Routledge.

    A comprehensive and contemporary treatise that brings together the synthesized knowledge of many of the world’s leading scholars and practitioners in urban forestry. Few relevant topics have been bypassed. Major sections address urban-forest values, landscape perspectives, threats to trees in the city, and diverse aspects of arboriculture.

  • Konijnendijk, C. C., K. Nilsson, T. Randrup, and J. Schipperijn, eds. 2005. Urban forests and trees. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

    While the scholarship represented in this collection of papers is largely European, it has relevance around the globe, especially in other temperate regions. The book arguably represents the first full-scope academic treatment of all aspects of urban forests. Ecological concepts are addressed across most of the chapters.

  • Miller, R. W., R. J. Hauer, and L. P. Werner. 2015. Urban forestry: Planning and managing urban greenspaces. 3d ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

    Like the other volumes referenced here, these authors sprinkle important messages about urban forest ecology throughout this text.

  • Rowntree, A. 1998. Urban forest ecology: Conceptual points of departure. Journal of Arboriculture 24.2:62–71.

    An excellent overview of the intellectual foundations of urban forest ecology. Cites a host of key works that have contributed seminal understanding on the relationships between tree populations and the biotic and abiotic elements of the environment.

  • Salbitano, F., S. Borelli, M. Conigliaro, and Y. Chen. 2016. Guidelines on urban and peri-urban forestry. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Within FAO’s long-standing Forestry Department is a unit entitled “Urban and Peri-urban Forestry.” Among its publications is this set of guidelines on managing city landscapes sustainably using trees. Key sections related to urban forest ecology cover climate change, biodiversity, soils, and water and watersheds. This is a promising introductory resource.

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