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High water users can be drought tolerant: using physiological traits for green roof plant selection

Abstract

Background and aims

Green roofs are often installed to reduce urban stormwater runoff. To optimally achieve this, green roof plants need to use water when available, but reduce transpiration when limited to ensure survival. Succulent species commonly planted on green roofs do not achieve this. Water availability on green roofs is analogous to natural shallow-soil habitats including rock outcrops. We aimed to determine whether granite outcrop species could improve green roof performance by evaluating water use strategies under contrasting water availability.

Methods

Physiological and morphological responses of 12 granite outcrop species with different life-forms (monocots, herbs and shrubs) and a common green roof succulent were compared in well watered (WW) and water deficit (WD) treatments.

Key results

Granite outcrop species showed a variety of water-use strategies. Unlike the green roof succulent all of the granite outcrop species showed plasticity in water use. Monocot and herb species showed high water use under WW but also high water status under WD. This was achieved by large reductions in transpiration under WD. Maintenance of water status was also related to high root mass fraction.

Conclusions

By developing a conceptual model using physiological traits we were able to select species suitable for green roofs. The ideal species for green roofs were high water users which were also drought tolerant.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Ruth Mitchell for assistance weighing and watering pots, planting and harvesting plants. Melanie Deleuze, Beau Picking and Claudia Green also assisted during harvests. Thanks to Burnley nursery staff Nick Osborne and Sascha Andrusiak for technical assistance. This research was funded by Australian Research Council Linkage Grant LP0990704 supported by the Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne Water, City of Melbourne, and The Committee for Melbourne.

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Correspondence to Claire Farrell.

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Responsible Editor: Michael Denis Cramer.

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Farrell, C., Szota, C., Williams, N.S.G. et al. High water users can be drought tolerant: using physiological traits for green roof plant selection. Plant Soil 372, 177–193 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-013-1725-x

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Keywords

  • Granite outcrop
  • Shallow soil
  • Geophyte
  • Water relations
  • Trait
  • Sedum