Urban Forest Protection: Investigating How Local Warming Causes Outbreaks of a Common Pest Insect

EPA Grant Number: FP917482
Title: Urban Forest Protection: Investigating How Local Warming Causes Outbreaks of a Common Pest Insect
Investigators: Meineke, Emily Kathryn
Institution: North Carolina State University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Entomology , Academic Fellowships


Arthropod tree pests typically are more abundant and damaging in urban than in rural areas. The hypothesis is that heat is an important factor driving pest outbreaks on urban trees. This study will investigate how urban heat affects scale insect fitness and interactions with natural enemies as mechanisms of scale insect outbreaks. Ultimately, the study will determine how the effects of heat and scale insects interact to affect urban tree health and ecosystem services.


The research will identify study trees in the hottest and coolest parts of Raleigh, NC. On each tree, tree health will be measured (via photosynthesis and growth), scale insect abundance, natural enemy abundance/ diversity and site-level temperature to understand how temperature and scale insect abundance interact to affect tree health. The study will use DNA sequences from these samples, along with thermal chamber experiments, to investigate scale insect adaptation to urban heat and natural enemy efficacy.

Expected Results:

It is expected that trees in warmer areas will have greater scale abundance and a concomitant reduction in health and ecosystem services relative to trees at cooler sites. Also, it is expected that natural enemy activity and scale development coincide in cold areas but scale develop earlier and faster in hot areas, causing a phenological mismatch between scale in hot areas and their enemies. Based on current literature, it is expected that scale insect populations have evolved to tolerate urban heat.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Urban trees provide myriad health and environmental services, and their protection will be a key concern for environmental managers and policy makers in the future. Several cities across the world have experienced extreme heat events that have killed tens of thousands of people, and trees remain one of few key ways to reduce urban temperatures. Additionally, urban trees in the United States currently sequester 700 million tons of carbon, an invaluable service that combats the effects of global climate warming.

Supplemental Keywords:

urbanization, urban heat island, ecosystem services

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final