- Empirical evidence of urban trees improving air quality at local level is scarce.
- We studied the impact of urban trees on NO2 and O3 levels in Baltimore, MD, USA.
- O3 levels were significantly lower in tree-covered than in adjacent open habitats.
- NO2 levels did not differ significantly between tree-covered and open habitats.
- Higher temperatures resulted in higher NO2 and ozone concentrations.
Trees and other vegetation absorb and capture air pollutants, leading to the common perception that they, and trees in particular, can improve air quality in cities and provide an important ecosystem service for urban inhabitants. Yet, there has been a lack of empirical evidence showing this at the local scale with different plant configurations and climatic regions. We studied the impact of urban park and forest vegetation on the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) while controlling for temperature during early summer (May) using passive samplers in Baltimore, USA. Concentrations of O3 were significantly lower in tree-covered habitats than in adjacent open habitats, but concentrations of NO2 did not differ significantly between tree-covered and open habitats. Higher temperatures resulted in higher pollutant concentrations and NO2 and O3 concentration were negatively correlated with each other. Our results suggest that the role of trees in reducing NO2 concentrations in urban parks and forests in the Mid-Atlantic USA is minor, but that the presence of tree-cover can result in lower O3 levels compared to similar open areas. Our results further suggest that actions aiming at local air pollution mitigation should consider local variability in vegetation, climate, micro-climate, and traffic conditions.