Title

Spatially-dependent biotic and abiotic factors drive survivorship and physical structure of green roof vegetation

Disciplines

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Life Sciences

Abstract

Plant survivorship depends on biotic and abiotic factors that vary at local and regional scales. This survivorship, in turn, has cascading effects on community composition and the physical structure of vegetation. Survivorship of native plant species is variable among populations planted in environmentally stressful habitats like urban roofs, but the degree to which factors at different spatial scales affect survivorship in urban systems is not well understood. We evaluated the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on survivorship, composition and physical structure of two native perennial species assemblages, one characterized by a mixture of C4 grasses and forbs (Hempstead Plains: HP) and one characterized by a mixture of C3 grasses and forbs (Rocky Summit: RS), that were initially sown at equal ratios of growth forms (5:1:4; grass, N-fixing forb and non-N-fixing forb) in replicate 2-m2 plots planted on 10 roofs in New York City (NY, USA). Of 24,000 installed plants, 40% survived 23 months after planting. Within-roof factors explained 71% of variation in survivorship, with biotic (species identity and assemblage) factors accounting for 54% of the overall variation, and abiotic (growing medium depth and plot location) factors explaining 17% of the variation. Among-roof factors explained 29% of variation in survivorship and increased solar radiation correlated with decreased survivorship. While growing medium properties (pH, nutrients, metals) differed among roofs there was no correlation with survivorship. Percent cover and sward height increased with increasing survivorship. At low survivorship, cover of the HP assemblage was greater compared to the RS assemblage. Sward height of the HP assemblage was about two times greater compared to the RS assemblage. These results highlight the effects of local biotic and regional abiotic drivers on community composition and physical structure of green roof vegetation. As a result, initial green roof plant composition and roof microclimate may have long-term effects on community dynamics, ecosystem function, and urban biodiversity.

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