Modeling urban distributions of host trees for invasive forest insects in the eastern and central USA: A three-step approach using field inventory data
Despite serving as invasion gateways for non-native forest pests, urban forests are less well understood than natural forests. For example, only a fraction of communities in the USA and Canada have completed urban forest inventories, and most have been limited to street trees; sample-based inventories that provide valid communitywide estimates of urban forest composition are much rarer. As a proof of concept, we devised a three-step approach to model urban tree distributions regionally using available street tree and whole-community inventory data. We illustrate the approach for three tree genera – ash (Fraxinus spp.), maple (Acer spp.), and oak (Quercus spp.) – that are hosts for high-profile insect pests. The objective of the first step was to estimate, for communities with only street tree inventories, the proportion of the community’s total basal area (BA) in each host genus. Utilizing data from communities with paired street tree and whole-community inventories, we applied polynomial regression to estimate whole-community BA proportion per genus as a function of a community’s street tree BA proportion and its geographic location. The objective of the second step was to estimate per-genus BA proportions for communities in our prediction region (eastern and central USA) with no urban forest inventory. We used stochastic gradient boosting to predict these proportions as a function of environmental and other variables. In the third step, we developed a generalized additive model for estimating the total BA of a community as a function of its canopy cover, geographic location, and area. We then combined the outputs from the second and third steps to estimate ash, maple, and oak BA for the nearly 24,000 communities in our prediction region. By merging these estimates with similar information on natural forests, we can provide more complete representations of host distributions for pest risk modeling, spread modeling, and other applications.
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