Auburn University forestry researchers document each tree on campus

AUBURN – A team of Auburn University scientists has recorded data about each tree on campus, documenting more than 7,300 trees valued at almost $11 million and generating data that could help landscape managers nationwide.

Professor Art Chappelka of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences said they now know the species, height, diameter, crown width, canopy cover and condition of every tree within the university’s landscape-managed campus.

“This will be a valuable tool for campus planners who can use the information as they develop a landscape master plan,” Chappelka said. “We have mapped the location of every tree in proximity to roads, buildings, power lines and other structures, so we can view the map on our computers anytime. It’s like a blueprint of campus trees.”

The researchers, using an i-Tree Eco inventory protocol developed by the U.S. Forest Service, found that Auburn has 7,345 trees among 139 species on areas maintained by its Landscape Services Division, not including the arboretum. The average height at the time of data collection was 8.5 meters with a diameter of 16.4 centimeters and a crown width of 6.7 meters. The estimated value of the trees is $10.75 million.

i-Tree Eco consists of gathering data about each tree, recording the locations using GPS mapping and using computer- and Geographic Information System-based methods to analyze the information.

The study, initiated in 2009 by then-graduate student Nicholas Martin in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, was published in the September 2011 issue of the Arboriculture & Urban Forestry journal. The Auburn researchers collected data from May 2009 to April 2010 and are continually updating the numbers.

The most common tree on campus is crape myrtle at 1,639 trees, followed by willow oak at 596, loblolly pine at 565 and magnolia at 464.

“We believe this study will give valuable information for urban arborists, urban planners and campus planners and anyone who plants trees in urban settings,” Chappelka said. “It could help in carbon sequestration, in determining which types of trees to plant and in helping them know the best crew size needed to manage their trees.”

Co-investigators on the study, in addition to Martin and Chappelka, were horticulture professor Gary Keever and forestry professor Edward Loewenstein.

“We hope to expand and test more aspects of the i-Tree Eco model,” Chappelka said. “We want to develop formulas that will help arborists easily gather information, such as creating an equation that might use the diameter measurement to get the crown size for specific species.”

The Arbor Day Foundation in 2010 and 2011 designated Auburn University as a Tree Campus USA University.

(Written by Charles Martin.)

Contact: Charles Martin, Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999, (marticd@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)