Abstract: Despite the importance of urban trees, their growth reaction to climate change and to the urban heat island effect has not yet been investigated with an international scope. While we are well informed about forest growth under recent conditions, it is unclear if this knowledge can be simply transferred to urban environments. Based on tree ring analyses in ten metropolises worldwide, we show that, in general, urban trees have undergone accelerated growth since the 1960s. In addition, urban trees tend to grow more quickly than their counterparts in the rural surroundings. However, our analysis shows that climate change seems to enhance the growth of rural trees more than that of urban trees. The benefits of growing in an urban environment seem to outweigh known negative effects, however, accelerated growth may also mean more rapid ageing and shortened lifetime. Thus, city planners should adapt to the changed dynamics in order to secure the ecosystem services provided by urban trees.

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Discussion

Urbanization is one of the 21st century’s megatrends. Based on UN calculations, the urban population will increase by more than 60% by 2030 and continue to near 70% by 205025. In this context, urban trees and their crucial role for public health and quality of life are highly valued. With this study we want to contribute to the understanding of urban tree growth. While we can document clear growth effects based on an unusually broad dataset and solid statistical procedures, this work is not a mechanistic analysis about the causes behind the reported trends. However, among other points, we try to identify probable reasons from the existing body of literature in the following discussion. Moreover, we hope our results will trigger mechanistic studies in order to gain a deeper understanding of the physiological processes underlying our observations.

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