More than just the architecture and student body changed over the last century at the University of Illinois in Urbana. There was a point where you couldn’t see from one end of the quad to the other, there were so many tall, majestic ash trees. The quad today, while still beautiful, more closely resembles the sparse woodland and flat plains that surround the university. And it’s all because of one small insect.
Now it seems that the emerald ash borer doesn’t just devastate its hosts; it’s killing people, too. A new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine details communities affected by the parasitic insect. Researchers spent 18 years monitoring the areas across 1,296 counties in 15 states. In communities affected by ash borer there were 16.7 more deaths from cardiovascular disease per 100,000 adults per year, and 6.8 more deaths from lower respiratory disease per 100,000 adults per year. Researchers controlled for income, race, and education. Research forester Geoffrey Donovan worked on the project and said his team saw the same tendency across many different demographics.
It’s no secret that trees improve the quality of human life. They provide oxygen-rich air while sucking up harmful carbon dioxide and other research has shown that an increased number of trees in a community leads to less crime, but the exact causal relationship at work in this study is still a mystery. According to Donovan, the next step will be to find how exactly the demise of trees is leading to our own demise.