Plant Species and Functional Group Combinations Affect Green Roof Ecosystem Functions

Green roofs perform ecosystem services such as summer roof temperature reduction and stormwater capture that directly contribute to lower building energy use and potential economic savings. These services are in turn related to ecosystem functions performed by the vegetation layer such as radiation reflection and transpiration, but little work has examined the role of plant species composition and diversity in improving these functions.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We used a replicated modular extensive (shallow growing- medium) green roof system planted with monocultures or mixtures containing one, three or five life-forms, to quantify two ecosystem services: summer roof cooling and water capture. We also measured the related ecosystem properties/processes of albedo, evapotranspiration, and the mean and temporal variability of aboveground biomass over four months. Mixtures containing three or five life-form groups, simultaneously optimized several green roof ecosystem functions, outperforming monocultures and single life-form groups, but there was much variation in performance depending on which life-forms were present in the three life-form mixtures. Some mixtures outperformed the best monocultures for water capture, evapotranspiration, and an index combining both water capture and temperature reductions. Combinations of tall forbs, grasses and succulents simultaneously optimized a range of ecosystem performance measures, thus the main benefit of including all three groups was not to maximize any single process but to perform a variety of functions well.


Ecosystem services from green roofs can be improved by planting certain life-form groups in combination, directly contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. The strong performance by certain mixtures of life-forms, especially tall forbs, grasses and succulents, warrants further investigation into niche complementarity or facilitation as mechanisms governing biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in green roof ecosystems.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Lundholm J, MacIvor JS, MacDougall Z, Ranalli M (2010) Plant Species and Functional Group Combinations Affect Green Roof Ecosystem Functions. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9677.

One Response to “Plant Species and Functional Group Combinations Affect Green Roof Ecosystem Functions”
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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Will Gorman, Professor Paul. Professor Paul said: Green Roofs – How plant selection affects performance #Sustainability #Environment #Urban #Climate #Urbanism […]

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