Many environmental challenges are exacerbated within the urban landscape, such as stormwater runoff and flood risk, chemical and particulate pollution of urban air, soil and water, the urban heat island, and summer heat waves. Urban trees, and the urban forest as a whole, can be managed to have an impact on the urban water, heat, carbon and pollution cycles. However, there is an increasing need for empirical evidence as to the magnitude of the impacts, both beneficial and adverse, that urban trees can provide and the role that climatic region and built landscape circumstance play in modifying those impacts. This special section presents new research that advances our knowledge of the ecological and environmental services provided by the urban forest. The 14 studies included provide a global perspective on the role of trees in towns and cities from five continents. Some studies provide evidence for the cooling benefit of the local microclimate in urban green space with and without trees. Other studies focus solely on the cooling benefit of urban tree transpiration at a mesoscale or on cooling from canopy shade at a street and pedestrian scale. Other studies are concerned with tree species differences in canopy interception of rainfall, water uptake from biofilter systems, and water quality improvements through nutrient uptake from stormwater runoff. Research reported here also considers both the positive and the negative impacts of trees on air quality, through the role of trees in removing air pollutants such as ozone as well as in releasing potentially harmful volatile organic compounds and allergenic particulates. A transdisciplinary framework to support future urban forest research is proposed to better understand and communicate the role of urban trees in urban biogeochemical cycles that are highly disturbed, highly managed, and of paramount importance to human health and well-being.