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The hidden value of trees: Quantifying the ecosystem services of tree lineages and their major threats across the contiguous US

Formally Refereed
Authors: Jeannine M. Cavender-Bares, Erik Nelson, Jose Eduardo Meireles, Jesse R. Lasky, Daniela A. Miteva, David J. Nowak, William D. Pearse, Matthew R. Helmus, Amy E. Zanne, William F. Fagan, Christopher Mihiar, Nicholas Z. Muller, Nathan J. B. Kraft, Stephen Polasky
Year: 2022
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: PLOS Sustainability and Transformation


Trees provide critical contributions to human well-being. They sequester and store greenhouse gasses, filter air pollutants, provide wood, food, and other products, among other benefits. These benefits are threatened by climate change, fires, pests and pathogens. To quantify the current value of the flow of ecosystem services from U.S. trees, and the threats they face, we combine macroevolutionary and economic valuation approaches using spatially explicit data about tree species and lineages. We find that the value of five key ecosystem services with adequate data generated by US trees is $114 billion per annum (low: $85 B; high: $137 B; 2010 USD). The non-market value of trees from carbon storage and air pollution removal far exceed their commercial value from wood products and food crops. Two lineages—pines and oaks—account for 42% of the value of these services. The majority of species face threats from climate change, many face increasing fire risk, and known pests and pathogens threaten 40% of total woody biomass. The most valuable US tree species and lineages are among those most threatened by known pests and pathogens, with species most valuable for carbon storage most at risk from increasing fire threat. High turnover of tree species across the continent results in a diverse set of species distributed across the tree of life contributing to ecosystem services in the U.S. The high diversity of taxa across U.S. forests may be important in buffering ecosystem service losses if and when the most valuable lineages are compromised.


Cavender-Bares, Jeannine M.; Nelson, Erik; Meireles, Jose Eduardo; Lasky, Jesse R.; Miteva, Daniela A.; Nowak, David J.; Pearse, William D.; Helmus, Matthew R.; Zanne, Amy E.; Fagan, William F.; Mihiar, Christopher; Muller, Nicholas Z.; Kraft, Nathan J.B.; Polasky, Stephen. 2022. The hidden value of trees: Quantifying the ecosystem services of tree lineages and their major threats across the contiguous US. PLOS Sustainability and Transformation. 1(4): e0000010. 26 p.