Project in the picture

Climate change in cities: impact of the urban heat island on urban forests

Plant species living in the understorey are sensitive to climate warming. Furthermore, some important processes in forests are determined by temperature, for example the decomposition of litter. An important characteristic of forests is their microclimate beneath the canopy layer, which buffers temperature extremes. This buffering capacity can locally reduce climate warming and help understorey species to cope with the changing climate. In cities, temperatures are generally higher compared to temperatures in rural areas due to the urban heat island effect. In this project, the urban heat island effect is used to study the potential impacts of future climate warming on forests. Our aim is to assess the impact of the urban heat island on the microclimate, the understorey plant communities and litter decomposition in urban forests.


To gain new insights in the impact of the urban heat island and climate change on forests. To provide sound information on urban forest microclimates, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning for policy makers, conservationists and urban planners.


For this study, we use three temperature gradients across different scales. Urban forests are studied along a climatic north-south gradient in Europe. Within each forest an urbanization gradient is used, going from the forest edge closest to the city towards the interior of the urban forest. Thirdly, a gradient in forest structure is used, since the structure of the forest is very important for its microclimatic buffering capacity. We measure the microclimate, vegetation, forest structure, soil characteristics and assess the litter decomposition with an experiment.


This PhD project is performed by Karen De Pauw, under supervision of prof. Pieter De Frenne, prof. Kris Verheyen and dr. Pieter Vangansbeke, from ForNaLab, Ghent University, Belgium, in collaboration with the FLEUR network.