Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

Could you imagine our campus without trees? They’re an integral part of West Chester University, beautifying the grounds and creating shaded spaces to study and relax. Plus, they provide environmental benefits, such as preventing flooding and erosion and absorbing carbon dioxide. Because of this great value, several departments worked together to create a tree geodatabase for the university containing information on every tree on campus.

The tree geodatabase was established in 2009 and contains information on all trees growing on both north campus and south campus, excluding the Gordon Natural Area, for a total of over 2,500 trees representing 120 species. Because it is a geographic information system (GIS) database, each tree is represented by a point on a map which is associated with the tree’s unique information.

Initial data collection took over a year and consisted of students visiting, numbering and identifying the species of each tree and noting variables such as GPS location, height, trunk diameter and crown size. Using this information, the U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree software calculated the benefits provided by the trees, such as stormwater capture, air pollutant uptake, carbon sequestration and energy savings for buildings.

Since its creation, the tree geodatabase has been updated regularly by members of the Geography and Planning Department. However, they hope to soon transition the responsibility of updating the database to the Grounds Department in the Facilities Division because the grounds employees work with the trees most frequently.

Connie Driedger, a graduate student in the Geography and Planning Department, is currently working toward making the database available to the public.

Joan Welch, one of the creators of the database and a professor in the Geography and Planning Department, stated in an interview: “There’s a huge education element to the database and if we can get it online and people find a tree, they can say ‘This is exactly what I want. What is it?’ They can look at the number on the tree, go to the database and figure it out. What Connie has been able to do is also show those people then how much benefit it provides, how much does this tree capture stormwater and how much carbon does it sequester. The educational benefits are huge as well as the opportunity to do research.”

Multiple research studies have been conducted using the database. One of these was “Native versus Non-Native Trees, West Chester University Urban Forest” by Dylan Drake, Joan Welch, Joy Fritschle, Kendra McMillin and John Polakowski. The study looked at the density, distribution and condition of native versus non-native species of trees to determine what types of trees should be planted in the future.

Another study was “Urban Forest Health and Resilience: West Chester University” by Joan Welch, Aaron Brouse, Adam Blough and Alexander Thurstlic. Welch stated that the study was concerned with “evaluating the health and resilience of the urban forest” to help determine what types of trees could be beneficial to plant in the future and at what locations.

Driedger also has plans to do her master’s research using the database. She said, “My hope is to take the tree species that are here, go and find historical data on them to show what size they were 20 years ago and then see where they’re going to be in another 20 years on predicted size, model that in 3D and then also use that data to figure out what the benefits of large trees are.”

She plans to compare this to the benefits of the smaller species of trees that are often planted after large trees are removed.

When asked about future research, Welch said: “Most cities in the northeast have a canopy cover of around 40 percent, and we’re only at 20 percent here on campus. So my goal in the years that I’ve been here is to try to increase that canopy cover to 40 percent. They just did a landscape plan for campus and they’ve got places where we could put in more trees . . . It would be a very interesting modeling exercise to see if we can identify the places where big trees could be planted to guide our landscape plan into the future.”

Abbey Bigler is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in business and technical writing, communication studies and biology. She can be reached at

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