Trees Save Big Cities $500 Million Each Year

iStock
iStock

As if you really needed another reason to hug a tree: Scientists writing in the journal Ecological Modeling say trees in big cities deliver more than $500 million in environmental benefits every year.

A tree is a marvel of biology. Unfussed by the pull of gravity, it sucks water upward; unembarrassed by its resourcefulness, it makes food out of the waste gases we leave behind. And that’s just what it does for itself; for us, it does even more, cleaning our air, beautifying our neighborhoods, improving our health and well-being, reducing our energy use, and helping us beat the heat.

"Trees have direct and indirect benefits for cooling buildings and reducing human suffering during heat waves," lead author Theodore Endreny of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry said in a statement. "The direct benefit is shade which keeps the urban area cooler, the indirect benefit is transpiration of stormwater which turns hot air into cooler air."

Endreny and his colleagues wondered how these qualitative effects might translate into dollars, or rubles, or rupees. The researchers used a tool called i-Tree Eco to estimate the amount of tree cover in 10 huge cities: Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, and Tokyo.

These densely packed megacities are home to almost 10 percent of the entire human population of Earth—people whose lives often depend on natural environments outside city limits.

“What is, however, most often disregarded,” the authors note, “is that nature conservation in the city can also contribute to human well-being benefits. The most common mind set separates cities from the rest of nature, as if they were not special kinds of natural habitats.”

Their results showed that those urban natural habitats occupied about 21 percent of each megacity landscape. That’s a lot of tree cover, but there could be a lot more; on average, the researchers found another 19 percent of land that could be given over to vegetation.

The data suggested that filling this space with trees could increase environmental and cost benefits by an average of 85 percent.

As they are now, the trees are already saving megacities gobs and gobs of money—about $1.2 million per square mile, or $35 per resident, per year.

"Placing these results on the larger scale of socioeconomic systems makes evident to what extent nature supports our individual and community well-being by providing ecosystem services for free," co-author Sergio Ulgiati of Italy’s University Parthenope said in the statement.

"A deeper awareness of the economic value of free services provided by nature may increase our willingness to invest efforts and resources into natural capital conservation and correct exploitation, so that societal wealth, economic stability and well-being would also increase."

New Study Reveals 'Hyper-Alarming' Decline of Rainforest Insect Populations

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iStock/jmmf

Climate change is decimating yet another vital part of the world's ecosystem, according to a startling new paper. Rainforest insects are dying off at alarming rates, according to a new study spotted by the The Washington Post. In turn, the animals that feed off those insects are decreasing, too.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York and the National Autonomous University of Mexico studied populations of rainforest arthropods (an invertebrate classification that includes insects and spiders) in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They compared the number of insects lead author Bradford Lister found on trips in 1976 and 1977 with the number he and co-author Andres Garcia found on trips they took between 2011 and 2013.

Lister and Garcia used nets and sticky traps to collect insects on the ground and several feet above the ground in the forest canopy. They dried these captured bugs and measured the mass of their haul against the mass of insects found in the 1970s, finding that the modern net sweeps captured only an eighth to a fourth of the insects captured in the '70s. The mass of insects captured by sticky traps on the ground declined by 30 to 60 times what they were a few decades ago. They also tracked populations of lizards, frogs, and birds that live off those rainforest insects, finding that those populations had declined significantly, too, at levels not seen in other rainforest animals that don't rely on insects for food.

Tropical insects are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes, since they can't regulate their body temperature. During the time of the study, average maximum temperatures in El Yunque rose by almost 4°F (2°C). The warming climate is "the major driver" of this decline in arthropod populations, the study authors write, triggering a collapse of the forest food chain.

The paper has other scientists worried. "This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read," University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who wasn't involved in the research, told The Washington Post, calling the results "hyper-alarming." Other studies of insect populations have found similarly dire results, including significant declines in butterflies, moths, bees, and other species. One recent study found that Germany's flying insect populations had decreased by as much as 75 percent in the last three decades. Scientists don't always attribute those population losses directly to warmer temperatures (habitat loss, pesticide use, droughts, and other factors might play a role), but it’s clear that insect populations are facing grave threats from the modern world.

Not all insect species will be equally affected by climate change, though. While we may see a sharp drop in the populations of tropical insects, scientists project that the number of insects in other regions will rise—leading to a sharp increase in crop-eating pests in some parts of the world and broadening mosquitos' geographical range.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Florida Waffle House Is Giving Away Free Food to Hurricane Michael Victims

Barry Williams/Getty Images
Barry Williams/Getty Images

If your community has been hit by a hurricane and you want an idea of how it's coping, check your local Waffle House. The southern chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and only closes under extreme circumstances. The restaurant so rarely pauses its operations that FEMA has been using something called the Waffle House Index to gauge the severity of natural disasters since 2004. Now a Waffle House in Panama City, Florida, has shown that even a Category 4 storm isn't enough to shut it down for good.

After closing due to Hurricane Michael earlier in October, the Florida Waffle House set up a food truck in its parking lot to hand out free food to community members, ABC 7 reports. "We are giving out free food curbside until 6pm. #ScatteredSmotheredandRecover," the chain tweeted on Monday, October 15, along with a picture of its truck parked beneath a beat-up sign. Waffle House later tweeted that the truck would return to the same spot at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16.

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle on October 10 and swept through the southern U.S., killing at least 19 people and leaving thousands without power. The Gulf Coast received the brunt of the storm, but Waffle House has reported that, along with its Panama City location, the Lynn Haven, Florida, restaurant is running on a generator and back open for business.

[h/t ABC 7]

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