Dr Chloe Molineux’s research on bio-diverse roofing

November 9 2014

There has been very little investigation into the soil microbial community on green roofs, yet this below ground habitat is vital for ecosystem functioning. Green roofs are often harsh environments that would greatly benefit from having a healthy microbial system, allowing efficient nutrient cycling and a degree of drought tolerance in dry summer months. To test if green roof microbial communities could be manipulated, we added mycorrhizal fungi and a microbial mixture (‘compost tea’) to green roof rootzones, composed mainly of crushed brick or crushed concrete. The study revealed that growing media type and depth play a vital role in the microbial ecology of green roofs. There are complex relationships between depth and type of substrate and the biomass of different microbial groups, with no clear pattern being observed. Following the addition of inoculants, bacterial groups tended to increase in biomass in shallower substrates, whereas fungal biomass change was dependent on depth and type of substrate. Increased fungal biomass was found in shallow plots containing more crushed con- crete and deeper plots containing more crushed brick where compost tea (a live mixture of beneficial bacteria) was added, perhaps due to the presence of helper bacteria for arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). Often there was not an additive affect of the microbial inoculations but instead an antagonistic interaction between the added AM fungi and the compost tea. This suggests that some species of microbes may not be compatible with others, as competition for limited resources occurs within the various substrates. The overall results suggest that microbial inoculations of green roof habitats are sustainable. They need only be done once for increased biomass to be found in subsequent years, indicating that this is a novel and viable method of enhancing roof community composition.