Field of Science

2008 Connecticut Bioblitz

Mark your calendars, this year's Bioblitz is quickly approaching! It will be held May 30 & 31 in Stratford, Connecticut and is sponsored by Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

A bioblitz is a 24 hour survey of the biological diversity of a designated area, such as a park or an entire town. Researchers who study all types of plants and animals, assisted by school children and the general public, hunt for as many species as they can find and identify. Thus taking a biological inventory of the biological diversity in an area. There are also events, activities and presentations given by the researchers. Yes this is a 24 hour event and quite a few people stay up all night, but sleeping is permitted. Usually the general public is just there during daylight hours, but trapping of insects and other nocturnal creatures does happen throughout the night which the general public can participate in. (We just collect the mosses during the daytime and then identify them through the night.)

I have attended two previous Bioblitz events (sponsored by the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity and Connecticut State Museum of Natural History) as part of the Bryophyte and Lichen group. Last year we identified 95 species form the Middletown area of Connecticut.

A bioblitz is a really great event! I would highly recommend attending a local bioblitz to anyone who is interested in biology and learning new species. It is also a great chance to interact with expert scientists who work in Connecticut or your local area.

Online Guide to North American Mosses

Word came out over Bryonet a couple of weeks ago about an online Guide to the North American Bryophyte Genera. The portions that cover liverworts and hornworts have been recently (March 2008) updated. I had not known about this key prior to seeing this announcement. Thus I have not used this key before but here are some of my observations and comments from surfing the website.

First is the Overview Key, which uses parts of the moss plants that can be seen with the naked-eye. I think that this is a really good place to start. After this you are sent off to sub-guides that help you narrow down your identification to genus. There are a couple of different ways to end up at a final answer. You can start by distinguishing pleurocarpous (freely-branching) from acrocarpous (rarely-branching) mosses OR you can look at some larger scale features of either the sporophyte or gametophyte to enter the key. Thus this is a multi-entry key. The utility of this type of key is that you do not know what kind of material a person will have available. If the key only used sporophyte characteristics but your sample does not have any sporophytes then you are pretty much stuck.

They also have some down-sized guides that only cover particular regions of North America. There are three guides for New England +New York, the Midwest, and the West Coast. These guides can be downloaded as word or pdf files, so they could be used in the field. From what I can tell, some of the moss characteristics used in the key can be seen using a hand lens, while there are some for which a microscope is needed.

There are a couple of drawbacks to this guide.
1) There are no descriptions of the genera once you pick one. This is important because it allows you to check the description against your moss sample to be sure you arrived at the best answer.
2) There are no images (photos or line drawings) with this key. This would also be a handy check for your identification. Also images that illustrate important features can be helpful to explain structures that you might be unfamiliar with. Otherwise you have to look up unknown structures in a glossary.

Overall I think that the guide is useful and might be a good place to start for learning the mosses in your area. Enjoy!

How many Moss Species are there in Ohio?

After seeing the county by county breakdown for moss species on the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association website, I was thinking about the total number of moss species for the state. How many are there in the state of Ohio?

Fortunately post #19 of the Introduction to Moss Identification covers just this topic. There are a couple of different publications that have assessed the moss flora of Ohio that are mentioned in the post. They list 385 species and 15 varieties of mosses for Ohio. That is a decent number of mosses, considering that there are approximately 1,200 species in North America

You might be thinking, what is the difference between a species and a variety? Well a variety is one of the official categories below the level of species that is recognized by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. Yes there are a whole set of rules governing the official naming of plants. (Animals have their own separate set of rules.) However the definition of variety is a pretty vague and might vary depending on who you ask. It could be defined as a local or ecological race or a group or population that has a morphological distinguishing feature that stands out from the rest of the species. Basically it is a category that is up to the discretion of the researcher if they want to use it. Some researchers would just avoid using this category all together and would rather species be the smallest grouping that is used.

Personally I have both proposed that a previously recognized variety be elevated to the species level and that a previously recognized species be recognized only as a subspecies/variety. (For more details on this study check out the reference below.) I think that it depends upon the situation, but I am not opposed to categories below the level of species, as long as they do not get out of hand. Too many varieties per species can make the naming and keeping track of them pretty messy.

Budke, Jessica M., and Bernard Goffinet. 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of Timmiaceae (Bryophyta: Musci) based on nuclear and chloroplast sequence data. Systematic Botany 31(4): 633-641.

Mosses in Ohio

I recently learned of a moss website of which I was previously unaware. It is the website of the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association. I thought that this was very timely since I am currently on vacation visiting my family in Cincinnati, Ohio, hence the lack of posts for the past week. Also Ohio has a fond place in my heart, since I attended Miami University, Oxford, Ohio for my undergraduate education.

I have checked it out the website and there is some really great information. Here are the highlights.

1) They have yearly forays in Ohio which are announced on the website. The next one will be held on June 21st. So if you are in the area it would be a great way to meet other moss enthusiasts.

2) There is a map that shows the number of moss species per county. The most speciose is Hocking County with 200+ moss species.

3) The part of the website that will be of the most interest to persons not in Ohio is the Introduction to Moss Identification. This guide does not assume any previous moss knowledge and starts by discussing how mosses are related to other plants and their life cycle. The later posts transition into discussions of common moss genera and their characteristics. These posts have great color photos that give an up close view of the moss plants. However my favorite illustrations are the hand drawn life cycle diagrams. I think that they add a personal touch to what is a complicated and confusing topic for those new to studying plants.

4) There is also a section on lichens. (Click here for some of my previous posts on lichens and a refresher on their biology.) It includes a couple of lists of the species in the state and those that are rare/endangered. There is also a map of the number of species per county similar to the one for mosses.

Overall I would recommend this site as a good resource to Ohio moss and lichen information. Additionally the Introduction to Moss Identification has great information on moss biology and common genera.

Moss Bioreactor

So you might have heard of a bioreactor before, but what does a bioreactor actually do? According Merriam-Webster a bioreactor is "a device in which living organisms (typically bacteria) synthesize useful substances or breakdown harmful ones." A number of biopharmaceuticals are made in this way, using either bacteria or mammal cells. Genes to make specific proteins are inserted into the cells and then they produce these proteins in massive quantities.

Recently they have starting using the moss Physcomitrella patens in conjunction with bioreactor technology. Much of this research is happening in Dr. Ralph Reski's lab in Freiburg, Germany. We met some of the researchers working in his lab at the Physcomitrella workshop that I attended this past March. They are working in conjunction with researchers in the pharmaceutical industry to optimize this technique.

It is pretty interesting that they are able to use mosses for this practical application. Who would have guessed?

Below the fold are several scientific papers that review this process and recent innovations in moss bioreactors. The third article has an amazing color photo of a moss bioreactor!

1) Decker, E.L., Reski, R. (2008): Current achievements in the production of complex biopharmaceuticals with moss bioreactor. Bioprocess and Biosystems Engineering 31, 3-9.

2) Decker, E.L., R. Reski (2007): Moss bioreactors producing improved biopharmaceuticals. Current Opinion in Biotechnology 18, 393-398.

3) Decker, E.L., G. Gorr, R. Reski (2003): Moss - An innovative tool for protein production. BioForum Europe 7, 96-97.

The Ultimate Moss Glossary

Mosses and Other Bryophytes: An Illustrated Glossary
by Bill and Nancy Malcolm

This is a spectacularly illustrated glossary to bryophyte terminology. They cover 1500 terms and nearly 400 species. A majority of the entries are illustrated with spectacular color photographs, such as those shown on the cover. I have used this book in the Bryology Laboratory course that I have previously taught and the students love it. (Pictured here is my well-worn and intensely loved copy.) I picked up a copy of it when I first became interested in mosses during college and it has been an indispensable resourse for learning new bryology terms.

The first edition (pictured here) came out in 2000 and over the past years this edition has sold out and now you can only purchase it used. It is selling for about $400 a book on sites like amazon and abebooks. Thus I have seriously thought about selling my copy, but it is such a fabulous book that I am reticent to part with it.

Fortunately the second edition of this book has come out at a much lower price. It can only be purchased directly from the distributor, Manaaki Whenua Press in New Zealand. (Click here for a link to their website.) The book costs $98 New Zealand, which is around $75 US + shipping. They have added a lot of new material to the second edition. It has 100 more pages than the first edition and 2/3 of the illustrations are new. I have yet to purchase a copy, but I have checked out my advisor's copy and it is even better than the first edition!

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who interested in learning moss/bryophyte terminology.

Mosses in the News

Mosses were featured in the New York Times, Home and Garden section last week in an article entitled "Moss Makes a Lush, No-Care Lawn" By Jancee Dunn. It is a nice article and features some fun pictures such as moss growing on an old pair of gym shoes! I have seen mosses growing on a number of discarded items in the woods, but this is the funniest one that I have seen. She talks about the increasing use of mosses in landscaping and gardening in the eastern United States.

They also feature some mosses of Connecticut and mention a local farm that sells moss for use in landscaping and gardening. I have talked about this farm in a previous blog post. It is the Sticks and Stones Farm in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is one fact issue in this article. They state "There are approximately 12,000 varieties of moss in North America ... ". Now I am not sure what they mean by 'varieties'. Do they just mean species, or species and sub-species, or is it really vague and maybe they are talking about all the different color varieties moss comes in? I am not sure what they really meant but basically they got their value wrong. The latest numbers are that there are 12,000-15,000 moss species worldwide! North America has many fewer. The latest treatment on the mosses of North America is through the Flora of North America Association. The three volumes on North American bryophytes will cover 1,900 mosses, liverworts and hornworts, with probably about 1200 to 1500 of those being mosses. So the NYT article might just have been off by one zero, but that order of magnitude makes a huge difference in the number!

Otherwise the article is well-written and talks about moss gardening from a variety of angles. I would highly recommend reading this article if you are thinking about gardening with moss. It might just get you hooked.

Berry Go Round #4

The fourth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at Foothills Fancies: Spring at Berry-Go-Round. A number of great plant articles are featured in this carnival. If you have a chance I highly recommend checking it out.

For more about blog carnivals and a link to the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.