Using research to build urban forests with resilience & city planning in mind

Asia Dowtin uses what she knows about how different tree species function in urban environments to help cities plan resilient greenspaces for the future.

Asia Dowtin

Asia Dowtin uses what she knows about how different tree species function in urban environments to help cities plan resilient greenspaces for the future. Dowtin, an assistant professor in urban forestry in the MSU Department of Forestry, studies how rainfall and city emissions interact with different tree species.

“Not too many people are doing that in an urban space, and I’m excited to be filling that void,” she said.

Considering a tree species’ resilience can help an area bounce back after a natural disaster or an invasive pest infestation like the emerald ash borer. First discovered in southeast Michigan in 2002, the emerald ash borer has wiped out entire forests of ash trees across Michigan and in many other states and several Canadian provinces.

“Rather than have a city canopy that is dominated by one particular species, many cities are making a strategic point to incorporate biodiversity as much as possible to reduce the risk of losing that much canopy in the event of a future pest attack,” Dowtin said. “I want to use the findings from my research to support development of strategic urban forest planning and management strategies.”

Q&A: Asia Dowtin

Title: Assistant professor in urban forestry, MSU Department of Forestry

Joined MSU: July 2018

Education: B.S. in meteorology (minor in mathematics), State University of New York College at Oneonta, 2009; M.S. in geography (climatology), University of Delaware, 2012; Ph.D. in geography, University of Delaware, 2018

Hometown: Roosevelt, New York

Influential or inspiring person: Gannet Hallar was a mentor to me and encouraged me to get my Ph.D. I worked with her when I was part of the Geoscience Research at Storm Peak (GRASP) Lab program in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The program provided mentoring and research experiences for a diverse group of undergraduate students. Hallar sets an example of being a strong, successful, innovative scientist who also has a balanced life.

On my bucket list: I have a vision of a campus-based research center that I would love to be a part of establishing. Related research would incorporate many of the disciplines represented in CANR to investigate disaster science and hazard mitigation in the fields of agriculture and natural resources.

On a typical Saturday afternoon: I’ll be at a farmers market. My trips to farmers markets always inspire culinary curiosities, and provide new exciting opportunities to engage with the community.

Best part of my job is: My appointment is split between research, teaching and Extension. This particular position helps me stay well rounded as an academic and educator, while ensuring my work has a meaningful impact on broader communities across Michigan. Right now, urban forestry is a resurging subdiscipline in forestry and I think in its very nature it attracts people across the spectrum of genders, socioeconomic statuses, races and ethnicities. It gives us an opportunity to bring people into forestry who may not have had an interest before. People like geographers, urban planners and even people in construction and engineering.

I went into this field of study because: I had an internship with the Nature Conservancy in Delaware while they were expanding into urban conservation. They hired me to do some of that background research. I had opportunities to read the latest literature and start thinking about the science and economics of urban conservation. I also engaged with people in government, the nonprofit world and the academy. I’d never felt more at home academically or professionally, and knew I wanted to pursue related work in the future.

Ways climate changes and weather affect resilience in urban forests: We’re living in a time of global change of observed and predicted weather extremes. This has actually helped us think more strategically about how we can build, expand and manage our cities to increase their resilience.

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