Field of Science

August 2015 Desktop Calendar

A crispy patch of Gemmabryum mosses from the 2015 SO BE FREE 
moss foray in the San Bernardino mountains.


1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" or "Save Image As...". The wording may vary. (If saving the image to your computer is the only option, then locate it on your computer and choose the "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" option from there.)

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.

Bryophyte Research Podcasts




The American Bryological and Lichenological Society (ABLS) has started a podcast to feature current research on bryophytes and lichens directly from the experts. 



Episode 1 focuses on transcriptomics. Let me try to break this down for you. Transcripts are small messages (mRNA) that are copied from the DNA and are used as templates to make proteins. -omics refers to a field of study. So transcriptomics is the study of transcripts. When you compare the transcripts from different organs or different developmental stages it can point toward genes that are turned on and off between the two, indicating those genes that potentially make them different.  

Episode 2 is about the sex lives of bryophytes and lichens. Fortunately no explanation on the topic is needed there. 

The Genetics of Resurrection Plants

A great article from KQED Science about resurrection mosses. Scientists are learning more about these tough plants with the goal of using their genes to improve crop plants, so that they can better survive the drought conditions in California. 



Professional Website Update

I finally got around to revising my professional website. It was way out of date and could use some sprucing up. I originally had some large ambitions to switch to a Wordpress site with a sharp theme, but the learning curve was just too steep for me at the moment. So instead I just made some changes to my iWeb site and posted it up. 

The only issue I keep running into with this platform is that the spacing is difficult to get right. Something about the way the formatting is automatic and my inability to see behind the scenes to tweak it. If you have any other suggestions for different website platforms that you like it would be great to hear about them!

Bryology Foray in California

Want to experience the wonders of bryophytes in California? Consider attending SO BE FREE 21 (details below). I attended last year when we explored the mosses of the San Bernardino Mountains and the year before that when we were in the hills of Santa Cruz. They were both really great trips! I especially enjoy getting to spend time with both amateur and professional bryologists from across the state and country. It is a great networking opportunity to plug into the bryology community. Hope to see you at the next foray!

This is a photo from the 2015 SO BE FREE foray. I just realized that I hadn't downloaded the photos from my camera. A post with the highlights from that awesome foray will be coming soon!




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The Twenty-First Annual
Spring Outing
Botanical Excursion
Foray, Retreat, and Escape to the Environment

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    SO BE FREE  21    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Brought to you by the new Bryophyte Chapter of the California Native Plant Society!

Friday to Monday, March 18-21, 2016
North Coast Range near Occidental, California

Coordinators: Stephen Rae, David Hutton, Kiamara Ludwig

Founded in 1996, SO BE FREE is a series of West Coast forays started by the Bryolab at UC Berkeley, but open to all botanists. The main focus is on bryophytes, but we also encourage experts on other groups to come along and smell the liverworts.  We welcome specialists and generalists, professionals and amateurs, master bryologists and rank beginners.  SO BE FREE is held each spring, somewhere in the Western US, associated with spring break at universities.  Evening slide shows and informal talks are presented as well as keying sessions with microscopes.  In addition to seeing interesting wild areas and learning new plants, important goals for SO BE FREE include keeping West Coast bryologists (and friends) in touch with each other and teaching beginners.  To see pictures and information from past outings, visit the SO BE FREE website at: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/bryolab/Field_Trips.html

 One important function of this year's SO BE FREE will be to serve as the first annual meeting of the brand new Bryophyte Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, which was just founded May 30th, 2015.  See: http://bryophyte.cnps.org for details, and to join!

The 2016 SO BE FREE will be held in the North Coast Range approximately 1.5 hour north of San Francisco.  Although adjacent Marin County has been the subject of a moss flora, and the Lake County Moss Flora by David Toren will soon be released, Sonoma County has not yet been treated floristically.  The county has marine sandstone deposits, volcanics, serpentine, and riparian habitats, supporting a wide range of bryophytes.  Participants will see coastal prairie, coast redwood forest, live oak woodland, serpentine chaparral, and chaparral scrub.

Beginners are very welcome to SO BE FREE, and this year we will have a special, expanded workshop session for beginners on Friday afternoon at the start of the event.  That session will include slide shows and discussions on bryophyte biology and natural history, and be augmented by mosses and liverworts on display (and under the microscope).  Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning we will have field trips to satisfy all participants from neophyte to expert! 

See: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/common/images/SBF21_announcement.pdf for more details about housing and meals, and the registration form.  Room reservations will be filled on a first come first served basis, soplease register early!  Early Registration Deadline is Dec. 15, 2015.  Regular registration Deadline is Feb. 19, 2016.

July 2015 Desktop Calendar

Some lovely liverworts from Chile to grace your desktop this month!



1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" or "Save Image As...". The wording may vary. (If saving the image to your computer is the only option, then locate it on your computer and choose the "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" option from there.)

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.

A Science Blogger Survey

Have you ever wondered why people write science blogs? In the age of Twitter and Instagram are science blogs still popular? Is science blogging dying out? Does anyone actually read them? Feedback from readers can sometimes be few and far in between. As the writer of a science blog it sometimes feels like I am shouting into an internet void. Is anyone listening?

I recently participated in a survey that went out to science bloggers about this very topic. I was excited to participate in someone's dissertation research and interested to see what came from the survey. The research is being conducted by Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau (@FromTheLabBench) at Louisiana State University. She is disseminating her data and results using open access platforms that enable us to see behind the scenes and to check out the research results prior to formal scientific publications. 

So what information does she have out there for us to explore and what can we learn from her study about science blogging?

Brown, Paige (2014): MySciBlog Survey - 
Top Read SciBlogs by SciBloggers. figshare. 
http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1278974
Part of the research involved determining the connections between science blogs. Answering questions like, as a science blogger which science blogs do you read? Or who are the science bloggers that follow your science blog? Interesting questions, but how do you display this type of data once you have the information? Here Paige walks you step by step through the process of using data to map a social network.

The best part in my opinion is this interactive network available on figshare. You can zoom in on different parts of the network and see how connected each of the science blogs and bloggers are to others in the community. You can find Moss Plants in Group 8. The black cluster in the lower right corner. I follow other science bloggers, but no one else in the survey follows my blog. A bit disappointing, but potentially to be expected. Another interesting pattern that you can see from this graphic is the highly connected red blog on the left side. That is blog Not Exactly Rocket Science from National Geographic. It looks to be very popular among science bloggers and might be one that I need to check out to see what it is all about. 

The slides from Paige's dissertation presentation walk you through the big picture and major findings of her research. She also breaks the research down point by point in this blog post.



For some additional reading on this project check out Paige's blog post that argues using her data that science blogs are not dying. Thank goodness! My posting has become more monthly rather than weekly these days and I was pondering whether or not I should keep it up. For now I am still in for blogging, but I am contemplating inviting some colleagues to guest post. So if you know of anyone who is interested in practicing their science communication skills and writing posts about mosses just drop me a message. 

June 2015 Desktop Calendar

Another group of mosses from my bryological adventures in Chile this past winter!


1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" or "Save Image As...". The wording may vary. (If saving the image to your computer is the only option, then locate it on your computer and choose the "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" option from there.)

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.

Jurassic Park Mosses


Imagine the world millions of years ago. Covered in plants and dominated by dinosaurs. 

Mosses were a critical component of the lush green background, but you wouldn't know it from the fossil record. Unfortunately there are not many moss fossils. They break down more rapidly than other woody plants and thus there is less fossil evidence of their history on the planet. 




Calymperites burmensis sp. nov. 
fossilized in amber. Heinrichs et al. 2014

Finding new moss fossils, especially well preserved ones, represents an important scientific discovery. Recently a new species of moss was described from a plant found in amber (fossilized tree resin). Originally this piece of amber was intended to be a necklace, but now lives at the American Museum of Natural History in New York where it can be studied by scientific researchers and potentially viewed by the public. 

The closest living moss relatives to this fossil moss were determined based on its physical features. Based on this data, the species is in the moss family Calymperaceae. No DNA was mined out of this preserved specimen. Unfortunately recovering DNA from amber fossils only happens in the science fiction of Jurassic Park.

Fossils, like this one, are an important addition to our scientific knowledge. They help us to determine the timing of moss evolution and to date evolutionary trees. This gives us a better understanding of when particular groups evolved and which groups were present during the prehistoric times of the dinosaurs.





For more on ancient plants, check out this episode of Plants Are Cool Too!

May 2015 Desktop Calendar

Some red Sphagnum mosses mixed in with a succulent vascular plant from my travels to Chile this past winter. Oh to be walking barefoot on the cool wet peat. It would be a great contrast to the warm weather we have been having here in Davis already. Full-blown summer is just around the corner!



1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" or "Save Image As...". The wording may vary. (If saving the image to your computer is the only option, then locate it on your computer and choose the "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" option from there.)

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.

Debunking Moss Graffiti

Have you heard of moss graffiti or moss art? Outdoor walls and surfaces covered in mosses shaped into words or images (Google Images). Many articles on the internet promote mosses as an easy way to create living/green art. As a scientist who regularly grows mosses in the laboratory I have a number of issues with this art form, but let's start with methods. 


 There are two methods described online for making this type of live wall art. 

#1 The milkshake technique - Collect a few clumps of mosses. Grind up the mosses in a blender with buttermilk, beer, or some other liquid to help the moss stick to the wall. Then paint the mossy solution onto the wall. Water the mossy area to help the mosses to grow. 

#2  Collect patches of mosses. Trim and arrange them into the desired design. Then paste/attach them onto the wall.

The problem with many of the descriptions online is that method #1 is outlined and then art made using method #2 is displayed as the result! There are many before photos and videos for the milkshake technique (herehere, and here), but hardly any after photos. This is the best one I could findWhy do very few people show the results of the milkshake technique (method #1)? Well, mosses are not fast growing plants. After painting mosses onto a wall they need to be kept constantly moist and will take a long time to grow. I think that many people try out this technique and few plants grow. 

Why does this technique seem to fail so often? In theory this technique could work. All moss cells are totipotent, meaning each individual moss cell can regrow an entire moss plant. However, moss species are often very specific to where they grow. Some species grow only on soil, others on trees, and still others on rocks. The success rate will probably be low if mosses that usually grow on soil or wood are painted onto concrete or brick walls. Another reason they may not grow is that the surface is not moist enough.

The vast majority of the moss graffiti images online were not made using the milkshake technique. The lush mats of mosses in the shape of a creature or phrase with crisp edges were instead made from fully grown mosses. Very few sites describe the process wherein they harvest mosses, cut them into those amazing shapes, and then use a paste to attach them to the wall. Most mosses used for horticultural or ornamental purposes are collected from the wild. The mosses used in these pieces may be able to stay alive or continue to grow for a while, but I wonder how long they can stay alive without constant watering and maintenance. My guess would be that they can stay alive for a bit, but in the end they would eventually die. 

These urban displays of mosses are beautiful, but I think that it is important to consider the cost of this beauty. Where was the beautiful moss taken from to put onto this wall?

I think it is a fun activity to move mosses around the yard on a local scale to landscape with mosses. I am also in favor of purchasing mosses from a grower that produces them sustainably or rescues them from development sites, like Moss'in Annie. However, I imagine that many of the mosses used for these art/graffiti installations were not sourced in an eco-friendly way, but were instead pillaged from the wild. The strip mining collection of mosses is a big business with much of the collection in the United States happening in the Pacific Northwest and in the Appalachian Mountains. Personally and professionally I am opposed to this type of collecting. Many of these mosses are long lived plants that are growing in old climax communities. They could easily be 10 to 50 years old and it could take at least that long for them to regrow. Wild collection on a massive scale is just not sustainable industry. 

Consider a hunt for urban mosses that are hiding in plain sight. Any moist place is a great location for mosses to grow. In the cracks or at the edges of the sidewalk. Beneath a dripping window air conditioner. Around the base of a tree trunk. Mosses are writing their own graffiti and they are adding a bit of green to the man-made world that surrounds us.  

An alternative to adding mosses to walls is to remove some of the mosses that are already present to create a design. I thought this one was a pretty amazing display of that technique.

April 2015 Desktop Calendar

Another moss from my adventures in Chile. 
I think the peltate/umbrella shape of this moss is really great!


1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" or "Save Image As...". The wording may vary. (If saving the image to your computer is the only option, then locate it on your computer and choose the "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use Image as Desktop Picture" option from there.)

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.