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Designing vegetation barriers for urban air pollution & climate change abatement: a practical review for appropriate plant species selection. -- Dragonfly Kingdom Library

Posted on November 17, 2020 at 6:40 AM

Designing vegetation barriers for urban air pollution abatement: a practical review for appropriate plant species selection

Yendle Barwise & Prashant Kumar 
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science volume 3, Article number: 12 (2020) Cite this article

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Vegetation can form a barrier between traffic emissions and adjacent areas, but the optimal configuration and plant composition of such green infrastructure (GI) are currently unclear. We examined the literature on aspects of GI that influence ambient air quality, with a particular focus on vegetation barriers in open-road environments. Findings were critically evaluated in order to identify principles for effective barrier design, and recommendations regarding plant selection were established with reference to relevant spatial scales. As an initial investigation into viable species for UK urban GI, we compiled data on 12 influential traits for 61 tree species, and created a supplementary plant selection framework. We found that if the scale of the intervention, the context and conditions of the site and the target air pollutant type are appreciated, the selection of plants that exhibit certain biophysical traits can enhance air pollution mitigation. For super-micrometre particles, advantageous leaf micromorphological traits include the presence of trichomes and ridges or grooves. Stomatal characteristics are more significant for sub-micrometre particle and gaseous pollutant uptake, although we found a comparative dearth of studies into such pollutants. Generally advantageous macromorphological traits include small leaf size and high leaf complexity, but optimal vegetation height, form and density depend on planting configuration with respect to the immediate physical environment. Biogenic volatile organic compound and pollen emissions can be minimised by appropriate species selection, although their significance varies with scale and context. While this review assembled evidence-based recommendations for practitioners, several important areas for future research were identified.

Air pollution is a momentous global issue, the greatest environmental hazard to human health, and responsible for approximately one in every nine deaths each year1. It is of particular concern in urban areas, where elevated pollutant concentrations and potential sufferers converge2,3,4. This is intensified by projected global population growth5, increased urbanisation1 and impacts of climate change on atmospheric conditions and weather variability6.

Beyond the myriad policy, technological and cultural changes required for the curtailment of emissions at the source, the mitigation of ongoing ambient air pollution is essential in order to reduce human exposure7. Appropriate green infrastructure (GI) is broadly recognised as one of several promising passive control systems for air pollution, and the literature detailing the positive effects that plants and vegetation may have on air quality is substantial (Table 1). Gallagher et al.8 highlight the concomitant benefits of employing porous (green) as opposed to solid barriers (including walls and parked cars) to mitigate air pollution where possible. Numerous studies involving GI corroborate its cost-effective multifunctionality by virtue of the variety of ecosystem services that may be achieved or enhanced, including ambient cooling and microclimate regulation (which bears additional gains in reducing local energy consumption and related emissions)9,10, storm water attenuation9, improved mental and physical health11,12,13,14,15, biodiversity support9, and climate change mitigation and adaptation16,17,18. This latter aspect is particularly significant with regards to air quality. In an article on the intricate, intertwined relationship between air pollution and climate change, Tibbetts6 suggests that combating one often supports abatement of the other. .....

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