Dendrometer, around the trunk of a red maple tree.

From time to time, we will highlight citizen science projects which may be of interest to OSU Extension Master Gardeners. Please visit our ‘Get Involved‘ page, for guidance on using approved Citizen Science projects to help fulfill the Master Gardener service hour requirement in Oregon.

This post is modified from a recruitment email provided by Dr. Michael Just who oversees the citizen science project, ‘A Tree’s Life‘.

A Tree’s Life‘ is a citizen science project that tracks tree growth, as one indicator of climate change. This project is perhaps one of the easiest ways to participate in citizen science. The time commitment is extremely low (a few minutes per year!), and their target species (Acer rubrum, commonly known as red maple) is a ubiquitous tree in urban and suburban yards.

Trees provide a suite of ecosystem services that improve human and environmental health. However, urban trees are subject to environmental stressors, including increased temperatures and drought. These stresses may reduce ecosystem services and make tree more susceptible to arthropod pests. The objectives of ‘A Tree’s Life‘ are to understand how climate and urbanization affect tree pests, growth, and health, and ecological services like carbon sequestration, air filtration, and water filtration.

Despite the importance of mature trees, we do not know much about the effects of warming on tree growth and services. This is largely due to the difficulties in experimenting with mature trees; you cannot move trees to warm spots. It is not practical to warm trees with heaters. Without information on how trees respond to warming and urban stress, there is no basis for selecting tree species and planting sites that will allow trees to thrive with minimal management or intervention.

Urban areas are warmer and often have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than rural areas. Warming and urbanization can reduce tree growth due to water stress, pests, and other factors. On the other hand, warming might increase tree growth and health due to longer growing seasons. These contrasting urban tree responses allow us to use urban warming to predict changes beyond cities that might arise due to global change. Thus, cities may be sentinels that predict how plants and animals respond to climate change.

The goal of ‘A Tree’s Life’ is to monitor red maple growth in urban, suburban, and rural areas. This is where you come in! Volunteers are needed to monitor the growth of red maples in their own yards. The project will provide you with a dendrometer, which is a tool that measures tree trunk growth without injuring the tree. The dendrometers will need to remain on the tree for at least a year, hopefully longer. You would simply need to report the tree growth (and a few other details), about once a year.

Although your time commitment is small, your efforts will provide valuable data to determine how different altitudes, latitudes, and urban conditions affect tree pests, tree growth, and carbon sequestration.

Right now there are very few citizen scientists in the PNW. Thus, participation by Oregon’s gardeners would make a big difference!

If you are interested, please fill out our Participant Sign-up Form, or visit the A Tree’s Life website for more information.

For more information, please contact Michael Just.

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