Scientific American reports on research conducted by Krista L. McGuire, Barnard assistant professor of biology, in an article titled "Why Manhattan's Green Roofs Don't Work--and How to Fix Them." An excerpt:

"Her study, published in PLoS ONE last April, found that green roofs have distinct fungal communities that help plants to thrive in harsh, polluted environments and filter heavy metals. On average, 109 different types of fungi were present on each roof including Pseudallescheria fimeti, a fungus that grows in polluted soils and human-dominated environments. Rooftop soil also contained fungi from the genus Peyronellaea, which live in the tissues of plants to help them take in nutrients.

McGuire hopes her research will be able to help inform green roof companies on planting the best species for each rooftop. Three of the rooftops, which received more intensive sampling, showed that fungal communities are different from one roof to another. Roofs are microclimates, McGuire says. Fungal growth depends on the position of the roof, pollution levels in the area, temperature and how much rainfall it receives. 'Plant species are adapting to new environments,” she says. “Without the fungi, the plants would not be able to grow and survive.'

'In the long term, this information may help individuals decide which types of soil microbes to amend on their green roofs, so that they can maximize plant survival and minimize management,' she says."

Prof. McGuire's primary research interests include determining the factors that structure microbial communities, how mycorrhizal fungi influence plant community structure, the impacts of global change on microbes, and tropical ecology.

Together with their students, Prof. McGuire and Hilary Callahan, Barnard associate professor of biological sciences, are using The Diana Center's green roof and similar spaces throughout the city to investigate the ecological and biological benefits of these sky-high gardens. Watch a video about the project.