It's All About the Wind

Have you ever wondered how mosses travel from one continent to the next?

A typical answer is that moss spores can be transported long distances by winds such as the jet-stream. You might just take that response at face value and happily go on with your day. Or you might respond, "That is an interesting hypothesis, but do you have any evidence to support it?" As a scientist my responses usually tend toward the latter, being a questioning and skeptical sort of person.
(Side Note: A hypothesis is a suggested explanation based on previous observations. You can come up with hypotheses for all sorts of phenomena, but until you have data or evidence to support your hypothesis it does not carry much weight. It just an idea.)

Well here is an interesting paper that sheds some light and data on this topic.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchJesús Muñoz, Ángel M. Felicísimo, Francisco Cabezas, Ana R. Burgaz, and Isabel Martínez. 2004. Wind as a Long-Distance Dispersal Vehicle in the Southern Hemisphere. Science Vol. 304, no. 5674, pp. 1144-1147.


In this study the authors were interested in whether the plants were more similar 1) on islands that were closer to each other or 2) on islands that were connected by 'wind-highways'. They focused on plants (and fungi) that are spread by spores. Included in the study were mosses, liverworts, lichens, and pteridophytes (aka. ferns). They collected data for these plants from different continents and islands around Antarctica. Also they used wind data to determine where the wind-highways are located.

Then comes their statistical tests and it is a little intense, just to warn you. Scientific papers published in Journals like Science and Nature are usually pretty short and can pack a punch. Figure 1 is pretty cool. It shows how connected Bouvet Island (loc. 8) is to other locations by the wind-highways.

The Take Home Message: For the mosses, liverworts, and lichens their data showed that the lands connected via the wind-highways had more similar species growing on them. This supports the hypothesis that the plants (and lichens) are traveling from one place to the next on the winds.

So the next time someone asks you how mosses travel from one continent to the next (Ok I admit you might never be asked that question, but who knows?), you can confidently state that they travel using the wind. And you can point to this paper to back you up.

Berry Go Round #7

The seventh edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at A Blog Around the Clock. I submitted one of my posts from earlier this month, the one about moss sperm. Not only is my blog included in the carnival but two of my posts made the lineup. The carnival edition is setup with photos and tag lines for each of the articles. The tag lines are pretty funny and I would recommend reading them out loud for added enjoyment.

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Mosses in the Azores

Mosses are everywhere! Connecticut, Japan, and the Azores (a group of islands off the coast of Portugal) just to name a few. Information came out over Bryonet recently about an online biodiversity portal that has been developed for the plants and animals of the Azores. The website can be viewed in Spanish, Portuguese and English. They break the database down into the specific groups of plants and animals, with an entire database devoted to the bryophytes. There is a species list that you can browse through or you can search for your favorite genus.

I ran a little search and discovered that my research moss Funaria hygrometrica is located on two of the nine islands. When I clicked on a particular island a 500 X 500 meter distribution map is displayed, which is quite helpful for narrowing down hunting areas when searching for moss.

Microarthropods Help to Disperse Sperm

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Cronbe
rg, N., R. Natcheva, and K. Hedlund. 2006. Microarthropods Mediate Sperm Transfer in Mosses Science 313: 1255.

I was tidying up my computer desktop today and came across a really cool article about moss sperm. Yes, mosses have sperm. They are flagellated and get around by swimming in water. This fact can limit the distance that sperm can travel since they need a film of water to swim through. This is not an issue for plants such as pine trees and dandelions, because their equivalent dispersal units are pollen. Pollen is more easily dispersed since it can be transported long distances via wind or animal pollinators.

There are some interesting ways that bryophytes can disperse their sperm. One of them is a type of liverwort that explosively sends its sperm into the air, thus sending it farther from the parent plant. I discussed this Airborne Sperm Dispersal and the associated video in a previous post. Click here for a link to that blog post.

Getting back to the paper at hand, researchers hypothesized that sperm could be dispersed via small arthropods such as springtails and mites. Animals act as pollinators for many flowering plants, maybe they interact with the sperm of mosses as well?

They tested this hypothesis in an experiment where they placed the male and female mosses at different distances from each other and with or without microarthropods. They found that the mosses that were separated without a film of water connecting them could not reproduce. The sperm could not travel to the eggs without the water and no sporophytes were produced. When the microarthropods were added to containers under these same conditions ... (drumm-roll) ... sporophytes were produced! They are not sure exactly how, but the sperm were able to catch a ride on the arthropods and to be transported from the male to female mosses. It is a pretty amazing feat if you ask me and I think that it would be great to see a SEM photo of the sperm attached to the microarthropods.


In case you have never before seen one, this is a photo of some moss antheridia of Funaria hygrometrica that I took. Sperm are made inside of the brown antheridia. My former officemate always describes them as 'corn dog-shaped' when teaching. The green structures intermingled with them are hairs with swollen apical cells.

Check out the original article too see their data and figures. It is a short, but good, read.


More Moss Poetry

The Moss supplicateth for the Poet
by Richard Henry Dana, Sr.

THOUGH I am humble, slight me not,
But love me for the Poet's sake;
Forget me not till he's forgot;
For care or slight with him I take.

For oft he passed the blossoms by,
And turned to me with kindly look;
Left flaunting flowers and open sky;
And wooed me by the shady brook.

And like the brook his voice was low:
So soft, so sad the words he spoke,
That with the stream they seemed to flow:
They told me that his heart was broke.

They said the world he fain would shun,
And seek the still and twilight wood, -
His spirit, weary of the sun,
In humblest things found chiefest good;

That I was of a lowly frame,
And far more constant than the flower,
Which, vain with many a boastful name,
But fluttered out its idle hour;

That I was kind to old decay,
And wrapped it softly round in green,
On naked root, and trunk of gray,
Spread out a garniture and screen.

They said, that he was withering fast,
Without a sheltering friend like me;
That on his manhood fell a blast,
And left him bare, like yonder tree;

That spring would clothe his boughs no more,
Nor ring his boughs with song of bird, -
Sounds like the melancholy shore
Alone were through his branches heard.

(This poem was a little long to post in one chunk. The remainder can be found below the fold.)

Methought, as then he stood to trace
The withered stems, there stole a tear, -
That I could read in his sad face,
Brothers, our sorrows make us near.

And then he stretched him all along,
And laid his head upon my breast,
Listening the water's peaceful song: -
How glad was I to tend his rest!

Then happier grew his soothed soul;
He turned and watched the sunlight play
Upon my face, as in it stole,
Whispering, Above is brighter day!

He praised my varied hues, - the green,
The silver hoar, the golden, brown;
Said, Lovelier hues were never seen;
Then gently pressed my tender down.

And where I sent up little shoots;
He called them trees, in fond conceit:
Like silly lovers in their suits
He talked, his care awhile to cheat.

I said, I'd deck me in the dews,
Could I but chase away his care,
And clothe me in a thousand hues,
To bring him joys that I might share.

He answered, earth no blessing had
To cure his lone and aching heart;
That I was one, when he was sad,
Oft stole him from his pain, in part.

But e'en from thee, he said, I go,
To meet the world, its care and strife,
No more to watch this little flow,
Or spend with thee a gentle life.

That I was of a lowly frame,
And far more constant than the flower,
Which, vain with many a boastful name,
But fluttered out its idle hour;

That I was kind to old decay,
And wrapped it softly round in green,
On naked root, and trunk of gray,
Spread out a garniture and screen.

They said, that he was withering fast,
Without a sheltering friend like me;
That on his manhood fell a blast,
And left him bare, like yonder tree;

That spring would clothe his boughs no more,
Nor ring his boughs with song of bird, -
Sounds like the melancholy shore
Alone were through his branches heard.

Methought, as then he stood to trace
The withered stems, there stole a tear, -
That I could read in his sad face,
Brothers, our sorrows make us near.

And then he stretched him all along,
And laid his head upon my breast,
Listening the water's peaceful song: -
How glad was I to tend his rest!

Then happier grew his soothed soul;
He turned and watched the sunlight play
Upon my face, as in it stole.
Whispering, Above is brighter day!

He praised my varied hues, - the green,
The silver hoar, the golden, brown;
Said, Lovelier hues were never seen;
Then gently pressed my tender down.

And where I sent up little shoots,
He called them trees, in fond conceit:
Like silly lovers in their suits
He talked, his care awhile to cheat.

I said, I'd deck me in the dews,
Could I but chase away his care,
And clothe me in a thousand hues,
To bring him joys that I might share.

He answered, earth no blessing had
To cure his lone and aching heart;
That I was one, when he was sad,
Oft stole him from his pain, in part.

But e'ven from thee, he said, I go,
To meet the world, its care and strife,
No more to watch this little flow,
Or spend with thee a gentle life.

And yet the brook is gliding on,
And I, without a care, at rest,
While he to toiling life is gone;
Nor finds his head a faithful breast.

Deal gently with him, world, I pray;
Ye cares, like softened shadows come;
His spirit, wellnigh worn away,
Asks with ye but awhile a home.

O, may I live, and when he dies
Be at his feet a humble sod;
O, may I lay me where he lies,
To die when he awakes in God!

Poetry that Mentions Moss

This is an excerpt of the poem Cloudberry Summer by Amy Clampitt. I have not read any of her poetry, besides this excerpt. I just heard about this mossy mentioning through the grapevine and decided to pass it along.
This poem can be found in its entirety in the poetry collection entitled 'What the Light Was Like'.

First verse of the poem Cloudberry Summer by Amy Clampitt

First ventured into
in mid-July, the bog's sodden hollow
muffled the uproar of the shore
it hunkered in the lee of. Wrung residues
of sphagnum moss steeped in self-
manufactured acids stained the habitat's
suffusing waters brown...

The biology in this poem is completely accurate. Sphagnum moss actually makes the water that it lives in more acidic by releasing hydrogen ions and thus decreasing the pH of the bog water. Amazing, poetry and biology all wrapped into one!

Flora of Japan Online

I discovered today that there is an online version of the Flora of Japan. Unfortunately it does not include any bryophytes, so no mosses, hornworts, or liverworts. The website allows you search for your favorite vascular plants in Japan by family, genus, or specific epithet. Some of the interesting features are that is gives you the common name of the plant in Japanese, both in romanji (roman letters that allow you to sound out the word) and in katakana (japanese characters used for spelling out typically foreign words). It also lists the other things you might expect from a flora: a brief description of the plant and habitat, the distribution in Japan and other countries, as well as the reference to the initial description of the species.

I looked up the listing for
Isoetes, the fern relatives (Lycophytes) that I studied when I was an undergraduate student. They have four species in Japan. One of them is even named in honor of Japan, Isoetes japonica, which would make the common name in English the japanese quillwort (quill - referring to the fact that the leaves are hollow and slender like the quill of a feather and wort - an Old English word for plant). Its common name in Japanese is Mizu-nira, which translates to water-scallion. Both of these common names quillwort and water-scallion are really great descriptions for Isoetes.

If you have never seen an
Isoetes, I have included a couple of photos that I had saved on my computer. This is Isoetes riparia (shore quillwort) and I found it growing around the edge of the Mansfield Hollow Dam, which is just down the road from the University of Connecticut. When the water level in the dam is high this plant would be submerged in up to six inches of water. This is fine by the quillwort. It doesn't mind being wet. Isoetes are typically aquatic or shore-edge plants and are found worldwide.



I can hardly believe that there was a time long ago in a state far away when I studied ferns and did not have any particular interest in mosses. (Well ok, it was only six years ago in Ohio.) Though they are not mosses, Isoetes are really great plants and were super fun to study!

Identifying Japanese Mosses

I have been walking around Japan for the past three weeks looking at all the amazing plants and having no idea what they are called. Ok I am exaggerating a little, I do have some idea. I can identify most of the flowering plants to family. For the ferns and bryophytes I can get down to a genus. So I asked Dr. Hasebe if there are any Japanese field guides that are in English. I have learned some key Japanese phrases but am in no shape to read full sentences composed of Japanese characters. He pointed me toward the many books that line the walls in the tea/lunch room next to the labo (that is the shortened form of laboratory in Japanese, I think that name is really fun!). Two of them are small field guides in Japanese: a Field Guide for Bryophytes and a Yama-Kei Field Book entitled,しだ・こけ. Both of them are filled with great color pictures and the former has the species names written out in roman letters, which is quite helpful. There is also the Flora of Japan (1965) that covers the vascular plants of the country. This book is in english, but unfortunately there are no drawings and only a few black and white images. This book is quite large and definitely not for the field. I will probably start snagging pieces of plants while I am in the field and bringing them back to the labo to figure out what their names.

But the books that I am the most excited about are the
Illustrated Moss Flora of Japan. This is a five volume set that covers all of the ~900 mosses growing in Japan. It is written in English and has keys start at the genus level and end at the species with description of each taxon. There are line sketches for many of the species that show all of the little details that are needed to confirm an identification. This flora is published by the Hattori Botanical Laboratory and is available for purchase online.

Up to this point I have just been taking photos of the bryophytes without identifying them to species. For example I knew that this was a species of Leucobryum, but I had no idea whether they have the same species in Japan as those in the USA or if they have entirely different species. There are two species of Leucobryum in the US (L. glaucum and L. albidum). However in Japan they have six species, including one overlap with the US, L. glaucum. Unfortunately I just took a photo of this little patch and did not collect any, but now that I have the Japanese Moss Flora at my disposal I will be doing some collecting!

Photos of Bryophytes in Japan

I visited the Shimpukuji Temple in Okazaki, Japan this past weekend and took some photos of the bryophytes on the temple grounds. This temple was established in the late 6th century. A man on a pilgrimage devoted to Budda saw an incarnation of Budda emerge from the pond in front of him. It was deemed a miracle and word reached a member of the royalty responsible for Buddhism propagation. (They even had people in charge of the media spin back then.) Thus the Shimpukuji temple was built. The water from the sacred fountain is famous for its medicinal effects especially for persons with eye diseases.

This is the sacred fountain with a large number of liverworts and mosses in the splash zone around the water.




There are more photos below the fold. I just couldn't stop taking pictures of all the great bryophytes!





This entire hillside next to the path was covered in mosses!


Berry Go Round #6

The sixth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted here at Seeds Aside. Check out all of the planty-goodness that they have lined up for your reading enjoyment.

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