Fine-scale substrate heterogeneity in green roof plant communities: The constraint of size

Amiel Vasl, Bracha Y. Schindler, Gyongyver J. Kadas, Leon Blaustein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Heterogeneity–diversity relationship (HDR) is commonly shown to be positive in accordance with classic niche processes. However, recent soil-based studies have often found neutral and even negative HDRs. Some of the suggested reasons for this discrepancy include the lack of resemblance between manipulated substrate and natural settings, the treated areas not being large enough to contain species' root span, and finally limited-sized plots may not sustain focal species’ populations over time. Vegetated green roofs are a growing phenomenon in many cities that could be an ideal testing ground for this problem. Recent studies have focused on the ability of these roofs to sustain stable and diverse plant communities and substrate heterogeneity that would increase niches on the roof has been proposed as a method to attain this goal. We constructed an experimental design using green roof experimental modules (4 m2) where we manipulated mineral and organic substrate component heterogeneity in different subplots (0.25 m2) within the experimental module while maintaining the total sum of mineral and organic components. A local annual plant community was seeded in the modules and monitored over three growing seasons. We found that plant diversity and biomass were not affected by experimentally created substrate heterogeneity. In addition, we found that different treatments, as well as specific subplot substrates, had an effect on plant community assemblages during the first year but not during the second and third years. Substrate heterogeneity levels were mostly unchanged over time. The inability to retain plant community composition over the years despite the maintenance of substrate differences supports the hypothesis that maintenance of diversity is constrained at these spatial scales by unfavorable dispersal and increased stochastic events as opposed to predictions of classic niche processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11557-11568
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number20
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • neutral theory
  • niche theory
  • plant community assemblage
  • plant–soil interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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