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Dr Elisabeth Larsen

Elisabeth investigates ecosystem services provided by garden trees and is particularly interested in traits related to flood mitigation, cooling and pollution capture

What do you do?

I focus my research on ecosystem ‘services’ provided by common trees used in domestic gardens in urban areas. The right tree for the right garden can offer a range of different services, including flood mitigation, cooling, insulation, noise attenuation, CO2 sequestration, increased biodiversity, enhanced air quality, and improved human health and wellbeing.

I am particularly interested in traits related to flood mitigation, cooling capacity and pollution capture while aiming to encourage the planting of a broad selection of species to increase biodiversity in UK gardens. Trees provide their services throughout the year and for years to come, which is why they play a crucial role in any planting scheme.

“I am very motivated by working with something that is so applicable: encouraging planting of trees, while urging the consideration of appropriate tree selection, can have real beneficial impact on the environment and human wellbeing.”

Why is your team’s research important?

Ecosystem services provided by gardens can mitigate a great proportion of environmental challenges, many of which are locally generated. Increased traffic increases air pollution, paved surfaces increase the risk of flooding; the growth of urban areas decreases wildlife habitats and creates urban ‘hot spots’. In this context, gardeners have power to improve their local environment, which in turn may have a positive impact on human health.  

Our team is very diverse in its expertise and our common focus on environmental horticulture can help to quantify and promote the benefits of plants in domestic gardens.

Projects I’m working on now

  • Optimising garden tree selection for ecosystem services
  • Structural and functional traits of garden trees for flood mitigation and cooling

Completed projects

  • The role of forest water use on local hydrology and moisture recycling in a Mediterranean climate, as part of the VERSUS project (2016–20)
  • Impacts of phosphorus and drought on root and shoot growth of bedding plants (2015–16)
  • Genotypic selection of black poplar for planting on marginal lands for non-food and bioenergy crops, as part of the WATBIO project (2014–15)

Achievements

I have worked in three different countries and collaborated with academic institutions as well as industrial partners in the private and the public sector.

Publications

  • Sabater AM, Vicente E, Morcillo L, Del Campo A, Larsen EK, Moutahir H, Pastor F, Palau JL, Bellot J, Vilagrosa A. (2021) Water-Based Forest Management of Mediterranean Pine Forests. In Ne'eman G, Osem Y. (eds) Pines and Their Mixed Forest Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Basin. Managing Forest Ecosystems, vol 38. Springer
  • Larsen EK, Palau JL, Valiente JA, Chirino E, Bellot J. (2020) Technical note: Long-term probe misalignment and proposed quality control using the heat pulse method for transpiration estimations. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. 24 (5), pp2755–67
  • Puértolas J, Larsen EK, Davies WJ, Dodd IC. (2017) Applying ‘drought’ to potted plants by maintaining suboptimal soil moisture improves plant water relations. Journal of Experimental Botany. 68 (9), pp2413–24

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.