Austin, Texas. Source: Visit Austin.

Short Summary

Austin is a vibrant community, home to many unique cultures and physical landscapes. The city is experiencing rapid growth and change and is projected to continue on this path. Austin is also located on a distinct ecological divide. East Austin includes the Blackland Prairie with deep, rich soils, and West Austin includes the Edwards Plateau, characterized by shallow soils over limestone. The urban forest is made up of approximately 34 million trees with a tree canopy covering about 31% of the city. The majority (92%) of trees are native to Texas, and the 10 most common trees account for 84% of all trees. Natural areas, including agricultural uses, make up the majority of total land area (57%), while 39% of total land area is considered developed area and the remaining is composed of open water. The trees, developed green spaces, and natural areas within the City of Austin’s 400,882 acres will face direct and indirect impacts from a changing climate over the 21st century. Managers in Austin’s natural and developed areas are working to manage the urban forest and ensure it continues to provide benefits for all members of the community.

Tree Species Vulnerability

Species distribution modeling of native trees suggests that suitable habitat may decrease for 14 primarily northern species, and increase for four more southern species. An analysis of tree species vulnerability that combines model projections, shifts in hardiness and heat zones, and adaptive capacity showed that only 3% of the trees estimated to be present in Austin based on the most recent Urban FIA estimate were considered to have low vulnerability in developed areas. Climate change vulnerability of urban trees, including adaptive capacity and zone suitability under low and high emissions scenarios, is outlined in Chapter 3 of the Vulnerability Assessment, featured below.

Austin, Texas Urban Forest Trail. Source: City of Austin.
Austin, Texas.

Climate Change Impacts

Austin has been warming at a rate of about 0.4°F per decade since measurements began in 1938 and temperature is expected to increase by 5 to 10°F by the end of this century compared to the most recent 30-year average. Both increases in heavy rain events and severe droughts are projected for the future, and the overall balance of precipitation and temperature may shift Austin’s climate to be more similar to the arid Southwest. Changes in temperature and precipitation may also exacerbate current stressors such as non-native invasive plants, insect pests, and pathogens. The Vulnerability Assessment of Austin’s Urban Forest and Natural Areas summarizes the potential impacts of climate change on urban forests.

Read the Climate Change Assessment

Explore Climate Impacts

Work With Us

To learn more about this project, contact Leslie.