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Ecological vulnerability of urban green infrastructure to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico


Abstract and Figures

Rapid assessments of the change in ecosystem services derived from coarse woody vegetation were performed for three municipalities (San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez) in the island of Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The assessments used two approaches (fine-scale and landscape-level) using computer models within the suite of i-Tree tools (i-Tree Canopy and i-Tree Eco) developed by the US Forest Service. The fine-scale approach evaluated services using ground forest measurements in selected San Juan localities and the landscape approach evaluated services in San Juan, Ponce and Mayagüez using photo interpretation of remotely-sensed imagery. Here we present a highlight of the findings of these analyses followed by general recommendations based on results and past experience with urban forest monitoring by the research group. While we are confident in the methodologies used, there are inherent assumptions in the field and modeling approaches. Therefore, the results presented here must be interpreted as estimates with a range of uncertainty rather than absolute values.
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... Los embates de los huracanes Irma y María en Puerto Rico fueron grandes perturbaciones naturales que provocaron una reducción en la cobertura vegetal (figura 1) e incrementaron la mortalidad arbórea que ya promovían los disturbios antropogénicos dentro de la cuenca del EBSJ (Brandeis et al., 2014;Feng et al., 2018;Lugo, 2000;Ramos Santiago et al., 2014). Se estima que a nivel de isla se perdieron de 23 a 31 millones de árboles luego del huracán María, mientras que el municipio de San Juan perdió alrededor del 24.8 % de su cobertura arbórea (Feng et al., 2018;Meléndez Ackerman et al., 2018). Esto crea un problema para las comunidades localizadas dentro de la cuenca del estuario, ya que se pueden generar deficiencias en la provisión de servicios ecosistémicos esenciales para la resiliencia comunitaria y el bienestar de sus residentes (Jennings et al., 2016;Low, 2014). ...
... Figura 1. Cambios en la cobertura vegetal promovidos por los huracanes Irma y María en cinco zonas de importancia ecológica para la cuenca hidrográfica del EBSJ Algunos de los propósitos principales de los bosques urbanos son conservar especies de flora y fauna, promover la investigación científica, proveer servicios a la ciudadanía, mantener la calidad de los cuerpos de agua cercanos y crear un espacio de cobertura vegetativa que ayude a mitigar los efectos adversos del ambiente urbano. Tras el paso de los huracanes Irma y María, áreas como el Jardín Botánico de Río Piedras, el Bosque Urbano del Nuevo Milenio y el Bosque Estatal de Piñones, entre otras zonas de gran valor ecológico, sufrieron una gran pérdida de cobertura vegetal, por lo cual se esperaría observar una disminución en su capacidad para brindar servicios ecosistémicos (Meléndez Ackerman et al., 2018). Esto resalta la importancia de promover la recuperación de la infraestructura verde dentro del EBSJ como herramienta para dis-minuir las vulnerabilidades ecológicas exacerbadas por los huracanes (Lugo, 2000;Meléndez Ackerman et al., 2018). ...
... Tras el paso de los huracanes Irma y María, áreas como el Jardín Botánico de Río Piedras, el Bosque Urbano del Nuevo Milenio y el Bosque Estatal de Piñones, entre otras zonas de gran valor ecológico, sufrieron una gran pérdida de cobertura vegetal, por lo cual se esperaría observar una disminución en su capacidad para brindar servicios ecosistémicos (Meléndez Ackerman et al., 2018). Esto resalta la importancia de promover la recuperación de la infraestructura verde dentro del EBSJ como herramienta para dis-minuir las vulnerabilidades ecológicas exacerbadas por los huracanes (Lugo, 2000;Meléndez Ackerman et al., 2018). ...
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Informe sobre los impactos por huracanes en la calidad del agua, ecosistemas, infraestructura, salud, y otros en la cuenca hidrográfica del Estuario de la Bahia de San Juan. Ofrece un diagnóstico, lecciones aprendidas y recomendaciones para crear un sistema resiliente. Escrito por varios autores especialista en el tema.
... As an example, urban forestry has gained considerable traction as an essential component of urban planning in the last decade (Escobedo et al., 2019;Miller et al., 2015). Increased forest canopy (or other types of green infrastructure; see Meléndez-Ackerman et al., 2018) in an otherwise artificial environment ensures the maintenance of several important ecosystem services, including mitigation of urban heat islands (Bowler et al., 2010;Moll, 1989) and carbon storage (Escobedo et al., 2010;Nowak & Crane, 2002). Indeed, in the last decade, there has been an intensified global effort to increase forest cover in the urban landscape, and with good reason. ...
... Accordingly, one way to reduce a community's ecological and economic vulnerability is to encourage a diversification of natural resources, including economically and culturally important plants (Brown & Jameton, 2000;Buchmann, 2009;Clark & Nicholas, 2013). Other studies have highlighted the important role that locally produced food plays in social networking, health, and community autonomy, particularly during times of economic and environmental strife (e.g., Buchmann, 2009;Meléndez-Ackerman et al., 2018;Shimpo et al., 2019). An increasingly popular trend in urban landscapes includes the cultivation of edible species in multi-storied home gardens, or "food forests" (FFs; Jacke & Toensmeier, 2005). ...
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Food forests expand the traditional concepts of urban forestry and agriculture, providing a broad diversity of tree-related ecosystem services and goods. Even though food forest systems bridge an obvious gap between agriculture and forestry, their potential value in the urban landscape is often undervalued. The inclusion of edible species in urban forest stands can enhance nutrition and well-being in the urban landscape, where food deserts are common. The potential for ecosystem services is especially pronounced in subtropical and tropical regions, where there is a heightened need for shade due to climate change-related heat waves. For this study, we investigated the tree species richness, stem density, and canopy cover provided by food forest gardens in 10 Miami-Dade County, Florida public schools located in the urban landscape. We compared results with neighboring properties around the schools and discovered that the food forest canopy was comparable with neighborhood urban tree cover. Additionally, we established that arborescent species richness (including an increase in edible taxa) and stem density was higher in food forests than in adjacent neighborhood plots. We posit that local food production could be enhanced by planting edible species in small spaces (e.g., empty lots or residential yards), as opposed to focusing on just ornamental taxa or recommended street trees. Our study highlights the importance of using mixed edible tree species plantings (especially with consideration to provisioning, regulating, and supporting services), potentially meeting urban forestry and agricultural goals proposed by urban planners and managers.
... Indeed, this initiative, has increased the number of fruit trees offered due to the increasing demand of participants. Planting and tree giveaway campaigns have resurfaced after the 2017 devastating hurricane season when an estimated 23-31 million trees were lost(Feng et al., 2018) in the island and is estimated the San Juan Municipality lost up to 24.8% of tree cover(Meléndez-Ackerman et al., 2018). The DNER created the Sembrando Futuro ('Planting a Future') program with a goal of planting 500,000 trees across the island in five years, species selection is determined by professionals according to site. ...
... Hurricane María killed twice as many trees as previously studied hurricanes like Hugo and George, the number of broken trees was three times more and in the case of some species reaching rates of up to 12 times more breakage(Uriarte et al., 2019). Other assessments of effects on vegetation revealed that for urban areas such as San Juan, tree cover losses were as high as 24.8% and losses in health-related ecosystem services provision like pollution removal, diminished in an estimated 30% for the city(Meléndez-Ackerman et al., 2018). ...
Residential green spaces are increasingly gaining attention for their potential to contribute to ecosystem services of social and ecological value for cities. This research evaluated the potential of residential yards of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to contribute to urban sustainability through the provision of ecosystem services using a social-ecological approach. The study builds upon prior work at this site led by the San Juan Urban Long Term Research Area (ULTRA) Collaborative Network and addressed the following overarching question: Which social-ecological factors could be influencing the vegetation structure and composition of the Río Piedras Watershed residential yards and their associated ecosystem services and disservices across the watershed? The work combines social and ecological data collected from household and yard surveys following ULTRA’s long-term stratified sampling scheme of households via a convenient-based recruitment. Household surveys used semi-structured questionnaires implemented in 2011 and 2014 evaluated resident values and attitudes towards residential vegetation and their associated ecosystem services and how these may influence the structure and composition of yard vegetation across the watershed. This study took advantage of vegetation surveys implemented before and after the 2017 hurricane season to evaluate the influence of hurricane disturbances on yard vegetation. Main findings highlight that self-reporting of resident attitudes toward yard trees are generally positive with residents emphasizing ecosystem services over disservices, and varied according to differences in the spatial context of trees and residents. Models show that positive attitudes at the household scale may explain some of the variation in the number of yard trees. Residents also self-reported positive attitudes towards native plants mainly driven by sense of place, and expressed preference towards certain plant traits (i.e., habit, size) and ecosystem services. Findings also show that large-scale hurricane disturbances can have immediate effects on yard vegetation structure and composition and be an important driver of the provision of ecosystem services in addition to the stated social factors. In this work it is argued that understanding how social and ecological factors interact locally to influence yard vegetation provides a better idea of what elements of the vegetation may provide functions of local value and promote sustainability.
... The RPWS and the island suffered the impact of two intense hurricane events during the 2017 season, with considerable impacts to grey and green infrastructure [94,95]. An assessment of tree cover loses for the San Juan Municipality has been estimated to be as high as 24.8% of the total tree cover [96]. ...
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Attitudes toward urban residential trees and awareness of their ecosystem services and disservices may play an important role in management decisions of private residential green spaces with important consequences to urban sustainability. In 2011, 397 household surveys were conducted in six locations of the Río Piedras Watershed (San Juan, Puerto Rico) to evaluate residents’ attitudes toward residential and neighborhood trees and their association with household socio-demographic factors, how awareness of services and disservices relate to the spatial proximity of trees (home versus neighborhood), and whether attitudes are associated with yard management (tree abundance). Most residents self-reported positive attitudes toward trees in general and these appeared to be more frequent than self-reported negative attitudes. Respondents recognized more tree services (emphasizing shade, lower temperature, food, and ornamental/aesthetics) and fewer disservices (emphasizing maintenance hardship, property damage, and power line obstruction). Not all tree services and disservices were equally recognized, and differences in the spatial context of trees and residents may contribute to the variation in residents’ awareness of tree ecosystem services or disservices. Variation in positive attitudes partially explained the current variation in yard tree abundance, along with residents’ age, housing tenure, yard size, and watershed location. Results have direct implications for urban forest planning and management in residential contexts.
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This study assessed the resident staff's perception and awareness of tree services and disservices at the University of Ibadan in order to aid all relevant stakeholders in designing management policies and decisions for the optimal and continuous benefit of trees. A stratified random sampling technique was used. Seventy-five (75) senior staff and fifty (50) junior staff respondents were randomly selected. Tree services as well as perceptions of tree management strategies were analysed using descriptive statistics and Chi-square (χ2) at p=0.05. Both senior staff (100%) and junior staff (98%) were aware of the presence of trees on campus, however, staff category is not dependent on awareness of presence of trees. Majority of the respondents (70%) selected more than one tree service. Among the identified services, resident senior staff ranked cooling of the environment (14.64%) as the most important, while resident junior staff ranked trees beautifying the environment (8.84%) as the most important. As a personal benefit derived from trees, cooling the environment was ranked highest (16.88 and 10.51%) by both senior and junior staff. The most common environmental disservice reported by respondents (23.59 and 24.82%, respectively) was littered fruits and leaves and trees falling on roads, causing nuisance and endangering pedestrians and motorists. The trees, according to the respondents (57.59%), are old and poorly maintained by the Campus Tree Management committee (32.28%). Furthermore, 93.70% of respondents agreed that trees are necessary on the University of Ibadan campus. The Campus Tree Management Committee should create an action plan that focuses on tree hazards mitigation and the promotion of sustainable greenery for the University environment.
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This study assessed, in monetary terms, the ecosystem services provided by trees growing in public parks and garden squares in Warsaw, Poland. It focused on the valuation of two services: air purification (measured as an annual benefit stream in EUR/year) and carbon storage (measured as a fixed value at a given point in time in EUR). The study was conducted using the Avoided Cost Method with i-Tree Eco software. The initial calculations were based on data obtained from 41 selected green spaces in Warsaw. Subsequently, the results were extrapolated to all public parks and garden squares. The findings indicate that the average economic value of the NO2, SO2 and PM2.5 pollution removal ecosystem service provided by trees in Warsaw is around 3 EUR/tree/year. On average, one hectare of a public park in Warsaw provides this service at a value of 408 EUR/ha/year, while one hectare of a garden square provides this service at a value of 347 EUR/ha/year. With regards to the carbon storage ecosystem service, the results showed that the average economic value of this service is around 170 EUR/tree. On average, one hectare of a public park provides this service at a value of 22.4 thousand EUR/ha, and one hectare of a garden square provides this service at an average value of 18.9 thousand EUR/ha. By extrapolating these results, the total value of the air pollution removal ecosystem service provided by trees growing in all public parks and garden squares in Warsaw was estimated to range from 393 to 560 thousand EUR/year. The value of the carbon storage service ranges from 23.3 to 30.2 million EUR.
In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Following these hurricanes, comprehensive and timely data collection was, and continues to be, required to assess both the severity of damage across Puerto Rico and to inform recovery and mitigation strategies. In this manuscript, we present how remote sensing data was incorporated into this assessment and planning process, focusing on the applications for Puerto Rico’s natural resources in the months following the hurricanes. We first describe how different types of satellite and airborne remote sensing data, along with existing and newly developed data processing methodologies, were applied to the damage assessment and recovery planning process for three natural resource applications: terrestrial forests, landslides, and coastal systems. We show that while remote sensing data offered a critical first assessment of the damage caused by the hurricanes, it was not always easily integrated into the recovery planning process and the variable timelines required by decisionmakers. Remote sensing data remains a powerful, if sometimes underutilized, tool in immediate and long-term disaster recovery efforts, and we conclude by suggesting future areas for improvement to facilitate the integration into natural disaster planning, assessment, and response.
Map data showing concentration of landslides caused by Hurricane María in Puerto Rico
  • E K Bessette-Kirton
  • J A Coe
  • J W Godt
  • J W Kean
  • F K Rengers
  • W H Schulz
  • R L Baum
  • E S Jones
  • D M Staley
Bessette-Kirton, E.K., Coe, J.A., Godt, J.W., Kean, J.W., Rengers, F.K., Schulz, W.H., Baum, R.L., Jones, E.S., and Staley, D.M. 2017. Map data showing concentration of landslides caused by Hurricane María in Puerto Rico: U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi:10.5066/F7JD4VRF