Field of Science

Power Posing for a Successful Defense

   I had my dissertation defense last Friday! In my department we present an hour long seminar about our research that is open to the public and then have a closed-door discussion with professors only to talk about the research and final write-up in more depth. Afterwords a decision is made about whether or not you will be awarded a PhD. I passed and now only have some revisions and paperwork to fill our before my PhD will be finalized. Super exciting times!

A postdoc-pal of mine sent me a link to this video a couple of weeks ago. This presentation discusses studies looking at how standing/sitting in "power poses" can influence empowerment and confidence. It is a really great presentation and something to think about for anyone who is going on an interview or who has to give a big presentation. I have to admit that when I was setting up the half hour before my presentation I was doing some power posing to get ready. My favorite, the Super Woman pose.

Amy Cuddy: Power Poses
Amy Cuddy revealed that we can actually change feelings we have about our own status through the physical positions we take with our bodies. Her research participants had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol after only two minutes in a “power pose”. Cuddy asked if such findings can have wider implications for empowerment training.

Is the Title of your Scientific Publication Important?

I just had a manuscript accepted for publication with the caveat that I needed to change my title. The comment was that papers with 'witty' or 'cute' titles are cited less often than papers with more serious titles. The editor mentioned that this had been shown in a study and I was interested to read about their findings.

The two studies I came across relating to this topic were:

In the first study (the title says it all topic-wise), they looked at a bunch of articles published in PLoS. Then they categorized the titles into three types: Declarative titles that include the main conclusions, Descriptive titles that only include the subject of the article, and Interrogative titles that indicate the subject in the form of a question. They also looked at the number of substantive words and whether or not there was a colon.

There main findings were that there was a difference between the types of titles in terms of the numbers of downloads from most downloaded to least Interrogative, Descriptive, Declarative. Whereas both the Descriptive and Declarative were cited equally and those with Interrogative titles were cited less often. Articles with longer titles tended to be downloaded less often but the title length was not correlated with citations. And finally titles with a colon get fewer downloads and citations.

Based on that, I think that the title of the first paper out from my dissertation will probably never be cited.  
A question, a colon, and probably way too long. I wonder if I also loose points for the multi-hyphenated word? Maybe the cool science will overcome the flaws in the title.

They also talked about the fact that anyone can download an article, including students or members of the general public who are interested in a topic. However, citations are only from other scientific researchers. Hence titles that are more easily accessible or are more interesting may get more notice online but may not be cited by other members of your field.

As for the other paper, that gets to the title of the second chapter of my dissertation.
Beneath the Veil: The calyptra cuticle matures before the sporophyte cuticle in the moss Funaria hygrometrica.

So my logic behind this title is that the term calyptra comes from the Greek word kalyptra, which means veil or hood. It is a little cap of gametophyte tissue that covers the sporophyte apex throughout development and protects the underlying apex from dehydrating. And the study focuses what happens in terms of the cuticle development on the sporophyte beneath this cap. I thought that it was catchy.

I used a similar version of this title at the 2010 Botanical Society of America meeting. My talk was really well attended and I even had several people mention to me that my fun title had caught their eye in the program and influenced their attendance.

In the second paper, listed above, articles with an amusing title were found to have fewer citations. It was ok to have a pleasant title, but amusing titles may make people think that your science is not rigorous or thorough. 

I am still a firm believer that a fun talk title helps to pull people in to your presentation, but I will be changing this title for my Ch 2 manuscript as the editors suggested. Definitely some ideas to keep in mind when coming up with a title for your manuscript. Not that citations are everything, but having other researchers read your study and then connect it to their own is important for integrating your research into the larger scientific discourse.

Stressed out Sperm

What happens when you stress out moss sperm? That was one of the questions that researchers asked in this study.

Not only did they look at the impact of high temperature, but they also looked at sperm concentration, rainwater vs. deionized water, and the addition of sugar on sperm survival. 

In general they found that moss sperm are pretty long-lived, relatively speaking, with 20% survival after 100 hours for all dilution levels. This is pretty cool because the sperms may then be able to be transported by animal vectors or survive in a small drop of water until more water forms a film that they can use to swim to a female.

They found that sperm lived longer when sucrose was added. You might not think that moss sperm would have access to external supplies of sugar. It is not like they swim through maple syrup, but when dry bryophytes are rehydrated they release sugars into the surrounding water and these could be used by swimming sperm. Thus they could live longer and have more energy to swim to females that are further away.

The sperm were unaffected by temperature and survived at the same levels at both 22 and 60 C (~72 and 140 F). This is a pretty dramatic thermo-tolerance. Imagine the difference between room temperature and slightly hotter than the record temperature for Death Valley. I can't quite imagine being somewhere that hot, but it seems pretty extreme! The species they studied (Pohlia nutans) grows in geothermal areas and thus may be unique in terms of its tolerance for high heat.

Overall I think that it is a really cool study!

Tripods for BryoPhotography

I got an email a few weeks back asking about what types of tripods I would recommend for taking pictures of bryophytes.  I am not sure what other folks use, but I have two different tripods that I like pretty well. I have a GorillaPod Original and a Canon Mini Tripod 7. I use them both with my Canon PowerShot A710 IS, which is the camera that I have been using for the past 4 years for the images on this blog.

I have used them both in the field and laboratory, but find that I more often use the GorillaPod in the field and the Canon in the lab. The GorillaPod deals better with uneven surfaces and gets me closer to the ground, while the Canon is better for flat and stable tabletops where I can adjust the height of the mosses I am photographing. Though honestly for many of my photos in the field I sprawl on the ground and make a human tripod with my elbows and both hands on the camera, while holding my breath. However, my knees are starting to protest this method, so I will probably be relying on the GorillaPod more often.

GorillaPod Original with a little demonstration of the its grappling abilities as it clings to the arm of my office chair.

Canon Mini Tripod 7 

Moss Feet

Did you know that mosses have feet? No joke they do. But they don't use them to walk or run around. And thank goodness, because I am glad that I don't have to go chasing them when I go plant collecting.

Ok, bryophyte feet. At the bottom of the bryophyte sporophyte is the foot. It is the region where the un-branched sporophyte is physically attached to the leafy gametophyte. The foot functions in the transfer of nutrients from the maternal, leafy gametophyte to the sporophyte. These are a couple of good reviews about this region in mosses and across land plants.

Ligrone, R. and Gambardella, R. (1988) The sporophyte-gametophyte junction in bryophytes. Advances in Bryology 3: 225-274. (book)

Ligrone, R., Duckett, J. G. and Renzaglia, K. S. (1993) The gametophyte-sporophyte junction in land plants. Advances in Botanical Research 19: 231-317.

My thinking about bryophyte feet was stimulated by a question from a colleague in my department. They were teaching the students about mosses in the Introductory Biology class and were discussing why in old, mainly brown sporophytes of Polytrichum the foot remains green. Early in development the entire sporophyte is green and photosynthetic. Later in development the capsule and stalk turn brown/red and dry out.

Here are some reasons why I think that the foot may remain green long after the rest is no longer photosynthetic. These are just my hypotheses/ideas. I don't have any data or citations to back them up. (1) It is protected from desiccation by the surrounding leafy gametophyte and thus does not dry out. Resulting in it remaining green and hydrated for longer. AND/OR (2) Since it is involved in nutrient transfer from the leafy gametophyte to the sporophyte, it may remain metabolically active and functioning in nutrient transfer until late in sporophyte development. Being able to function in nutrient transfer would require that this tissue is still alive and maybe also photosynthetic = green.

You can see the foot of a moss sporophyte by gently pulling the sporophyte out of the gametophyte that it is attached to. I honestly only remember trying this on Polytrichum when teaching intro bio. I am definitely going to have to take a look at the feet of other species of mosses to see if they also remain green long after the sporophytes have become brown. on Kickstarter - Taking Peer Review to the Internet

I heard about this project over at Uncommon Ground. I think that sounds like a pretty interesting idea for evaluating information that is posted on the web. Check it out and see what you think.

Poop - Where Bryologists and Ornithologists Overlap

We read a paper last week in lab group about goose poop. Yes this is still a blog about about bryophytes and I am going to write about poop today.

In this paper, the goal was to optimize a methodology for extracting bryophyte DNA from the poop/faeces of the barnacle goose. Then they use the DNA to identify the different bryophyte species that the birds had eaten. It is pretty amazing that they were able to identify the mosses from the goose poop using DNA. I think that this sounds much better than digging through the poop trying to identify the bryohytes from small pieces of leaves.

I ran into a bunch of the ornithologists (the folks who study birds) who work in my department and we had a fun discussion about all the possibilities for studying bird poop and the plant contents of the poop. 

It made me think about the Science Communication seminar that I have taken and the book Don't be Such a Scientist that we read a couple of years back. One of the ideas in the book is that that there are several ways to appeal to an audience when communicating science. Intellect - Feeling - Humor - Sex. I think that bodily functions, including poop, could be added in too. Poop is definitely a topic for communicating science that appeals to everyone. Ok maybe appeals is the wrong word. But it is definitely a process everyone can relate to, whereas studying mosses can at times be a little esoteric.

I thought that it was a really fun paper and good science too!

Hot off the Geothermal Presses

 I read this study in the latest issue of the International Journal of Plant Sciences. I thought that it was a really neat study and is an easily accessible piece of scientific literature for folks to read who are not professional bryologists.

The premise - In stressful environments, studies suggest that sexual reproduction is favored. Researchers examine this idea in mosses across a geothermal gradient in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Methodology - They collected data on sporophyte and gametoecia production from species in the field. (Yeah, gametoecia. I had to look this word up. It is both the gametangia and the surrounding leaves together.) They also collected data on temperature. The collection locations were divided up into geothermal and nongeothermal sites based on the temperature measures.
Also they ran a common garden experiment with Pohlia nutans to look at whether a genetic adaptation was limiting sporophyte production or if alternatively the extreme stress was the cause of low sporophyte production.

Results - Their results indicate that there were lower rates of sporophyte production, due to lower rates of gametoecia formation at the geothermal sites. These rates for both sporophyte and gametoecia production were higher at the nongeothermal sites. When plants from both types of sites were grown in greenhouse conditions these relationships disappear.

Implications - This study does not support the idea that sexual reproduction is favored in stressful environments. It actually shows the complete opposite for this species of mosses. Sexual reproduction decreases with increased temperature stress. The authors state that the "regression between temperature and sporophyte production was not high." And go on to suggest that other stresses such as heavy metals may be involved. They discuss that other studies in fungi and mosses have shown similar patterns and cite several studies.
I was wondering whether they thought that differences in light or perhaps levels of desiccation could be an influence too.

Overall I thought that it was a really great study and a nice read. One odd fact is that they list 3M Corporation as one of their funding sources in the acknowledgements. I use a lot of post-it-notes to label and organize my research. Wonder if I could get them to sponsor one of my studies?


 One of the postcards that I got this summer prominently featured mosses from northern California. A picture of the postcard is on the right. I also took a photo of the caption on the back. Check out the portion that my friend underlined. It reads "A variety of mosses are brought to blossom by winter rains." What strikes you about this sentence? How about the word blossom? Blossoming refers to flowers, and mosses don't have flowers! This is a common terminology mistake. People are much more familiar with flowering plants and when looking at mosses they typically try to use flowering plant terms. Mosses with sporophytes are often said to be fruiting or blooming. Figuring out what word to use can be a challenge. Sporulating? Sporophyting? Usually what I say is that they are reproducing and releasing spores. Most people are familiar with reproduction and then I can go on to explain more about spores if needed. 

This might seem like I am just being picky, but using the correct word is important for making comparisons between mosses and other plants. The little sporophytes that the mosses are producing are not the same as flowers, but are actually equivalent to an entire redwood tree! I think that comparison has much more wow factor that just being a gaudy flower.

This is the other mossy postcard that I have hanging on my bulletin board, below. Kathyrn is definitely winning the moss postcard competition, having sent me both of these. The stamp on the other side of this postcard even features a moss and fern filled glen. What's that, you say you can't see the mosses on the stamp? Well they are there. Look at that moist stream-side habitat. Those trees and the rocks surrounding the waterfall must be covered in mosses!

Relationships between the Three Groups of Bryophytes

I got an email this week from a colleague about the state of the relationships among the three groups of bryophytes: Mosses,  Liverworts, and Hornworts.

The first questions to consider - Are they three separate lineages? OR One monophyletic lineage?
If they are three separate lineages, what order should they be placed in relative to tracheophytes (plants that have tracheids, a special type of xylem)?

Well it all depends on which data are used.

Data from sperm ultrastructure (Garbary et al. 1993) and DNA data from entire chloroplast genomes (Nishiyama et al. 2003) points to the three groups being part of a monophyletic lineage, as in the diagram on the right.

However all the other studies that I can think of support these three lineages as independent and as a grade diverging prior to the evolution of the tracheophytes.

This phylogenetic relationship was proposed based on morphology, physiology, and biochemistry data (Mishler & Churchill 1984). Then subsequently supported by molecular sequence data (Mishler et al. 1994).

Another alternative hypothesis was supported by sporophyte morphological data (Garbary & Renzaglia 1998) and cox3 mitochondrial sequence data (Malek et al. 1996).

So, I think that this could be presented to students as an active scientific example of different data giving conflicting signals. Often science is much messier than we explain to students. They could be presented with multiple alternative hypotheses for these relationships and have to discuss the different scenarios or perhaps the different types of data used for each. 

However, if I only wanted to present one phylogenetic relationship to my students I would go with this one, below. This relationship is supported by Qui et al. (2006), which uses molecular sequence data from the chloroplast, mitochondria and nucleus on over 100 taxa. Others may disagree, but this is the phylogeny that I would recommend using as our most current hypothesis for teaching students about relationships among the bryophytes.


Garbary, D. J., K. S. Renzaglia & J. G. Duckett. 1993. The phylogeny of land plants: A cladistic analysis based on male gametogenesis. Plant Systematics and Evolution 188: 237-269.

Garbary, D. J. & K. S. Renzaglia. 1998. Bryophyte phylogeny and the evolution of land plants: Evidence from development and ultrastructure. Pp. 45-63 in J. W. Bates, N. W. Ashton & J. G. Duckett (Editors), Bryology for the Twenty-first Century. Maney Publishing, Leeds.

Kenrick, P. & P. R. Crane. 1997. The Origin and Early Diversification of Land Plants. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Malek, O., K. Lättig, R. Hiesel, A. Brennicke & V. Knoop. 1996. RNA editing in bryophytes and a molecular phylogeny of land plants. The European Molecular Biology Organization Journal 15: 1403-1411.

Mishler, B. D. & S. P. Churchill. 1984. A cladistic approach to the phylogeny of "bryophytes." Brittonia 36:406-424.

Mishler, B. D., L. A. Lewis, M. A. Buchheim, K. S. Renzaglia, D. L. Garbary, C. F. Delwiche, F. W. Zechman, T. S. Kantz & R. L. Chapman. 1994. Phylogenetic relationships of the “green algae” and “bryophytes”. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 81: 451-483.

Nishiyama, T., P. G. Wolf, M. Kughita, R. B. Sinclair, M. Sugita, C. Sugiura, T. Wakasugi, K. Yamada, K. Yoshinaga, K. Yamaguchi, K. Euda & M. Hasebe. 2004. Chloroplast phylogeny indicates that bryophytes are monophyletic. Molecular Biology and Evolution 21: 1813-1819.

What kind of Scientist are You?

I spent the past couple of weeks helping a friend move across the country. While on our travels I read this post from one of the professors in my department at the University of Connecticut. The idea is that you can identify what type of scientist you are in a personality-test fashion, based on whether you are Theory- or Data-Driven and a Nerd or Adventurer. 

The four types of scientists are listed below and are defined here by Virginia Hughes.

The Data-Driven Nerd
The Theory-Driven Nerd
The Data-Driven Adventurer
The Theory-Driven Adventurer

This stimulated some fun discussions while passing the time on the drive. I am definitely a Data-Driven Nerd. The part of science that I enjoy the most is running experiments in the lab. Though I do like adventure I usually get my fix through vacation travel on my time off, not directly through my research. And writing up my experiments for publication is my least favorite part of the process. My friend on the other hand is a Theory-Driven Adventurer. She is a political geographer who does her research in southeast Asia. I went to visit her last year while she was in Malaysia. A vacation adventure for me. 

I thought that this was a fun way to think about ourselves as scientists and what drives our interest in the questions that we ask. And I wanted to spread the word.

What kind of scientist are you?

Another Moss Misnomer

I am always on the lookout for plants called mosses that are actually not. I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden with some friends while in St. Louis a few weeks back for the Botany 2011 conference.  There I spotted this plant labeled Moss Fern. It is Selaginella pallescens, which is a lycopod or more traditionally called a fern ally. It is distantly related to moss as they are both green plants, but is definitely not a true moss. It has both vasculature (internal plumbing of xylem and phloem) as well as true roots to anchor it into the soil and function in water uptake.

There is a lot of plant life going on in this photo. The Selaginella is located behind the sign-post and also directly to the left. A few other species made it into the shot including a palm in the upper left and some mosses in the lower left.

There were quite a few other spots around the garden where mosses were growing, however, none of them were labeled. It is a bit of a bummer that the mosses are so blatantly ignored at a botanical garden. Here are a few shots from mosses inside the Climatron.


In general the garden didn't seem to add any fake animals to add to the tropical ambiance, thus this frog below looked a little out of place.

Some additional photos of the garden plants and me constantly looking for mosses can be seen over at my friend Em's blog

A New TV show about Plants from the BSA conference

I just got back from the botany meeting out in St. Louis. Presentations were really stimulating and interesting. St. Louis was hot and sticky. Overall a great time was had!

At the meeting a pilot of a new show was presented by Dr. Chris Martine, called Plants are Cool, Too! I met Chris when he was a graduate student at the University of Connecticut in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department. I think that a show about plants is a great idea and Chris is just the person to host the show. His passion and excitement for plants it obvious from the pilot! Also it has a super fun theme song. Check it out below and spread the word.

The blog is changing

You may have noticed some changes to the look of the blog recently. It is in the process of being migrated to the science blog network Field of Science. I decided that it might be a fun step in the evolution of my blog to join up with other scientists for more interactive discussions about science and mosses.

Wish me luck it is my first time presenting TWO talks at a scientific meeting and they are on the same day!

Posts Three Days in a Row!

On top of posting our teaching and outreach resources online, I also updated my personal website. I added in a page about teaching and a gallery with photos of both my labmates and mosses. Also I had a few new and future publications to add to that page. I am in the process of gearing up for my phd defense in October and hitting the job market soon after. I figured that my website could use an update. Blog posting may be a little light until post-defense time.

A Visit to the Miniature Forest - Brochure

 Insights into the biology and evolution of Bryophytes in Northeastern Connecticut

The naturalist walking through the forests and wetlands of Northeastern Connecticut searches for the hidden flowers and listens to the songs of the birds. The mosses and liverworts that cover the trail bank, color the tree trunks in shades of green and form soft cushions or carpets on the boulders, typically pass unnoticed. Yet several hundred species of Bryophytes occur in our region, and provide important services to the ecosystem, including partially controlling water movement, decreasing erosion, and providing microhabitats for numerous invertebrates. They can even dominate the vegetation in an area or, as in rainforests, compose a majority of the biomass in a local area.

Bryophytes are common, diverse and locally abundant. A closer look at their architecture, habitat, and life history provides insights into the ecological roles of bryophytes, the challenges encountered by plants on land and the solutions to some of these obstacles. This guide is not a field guide to the bryophytes of the forest. Accurate identification of bryophyte species often requires observation of microscopic characters. The guide aims to highlight some of the species common to the area and to raise awareness of bryophytes as a component of our forests, presenting aspects of plant biology through the “eyes” of a bryophyte.

Please contact Dr. Bernard Goffinet ( to order printed color versions of this brochure. Printing fees of approximately $3.50 per brochure may apply.

Credits: These resources were developed by Jon Swanson, M.S. (Edwin O. Smith High School, Storrs, CT), Jessica Budke, M.S., and Bernard Goffinet Ph.D. (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT) funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB-0919284).

Chemical Competition in Peatland Plants using the Moss Sphagnum

Laboratory Resources for High School Biology Teachers

These laboratory exercises were designed to help students to better understand the concept of chemical competition in ecology using the moss Sphagnum. These exercises aim to show students that not all competition is carried out by animals and not all competition is a physical battle, as most of the traditional examples show. By using the chemical alteration of the environment by Sphagnum, students can also be taught about pH, in a biological framework. As a result, the labs can be used in either an ecology unit or a chemistry unit, within a biology course.

Powerpoint Introduction – Includes 15 slides that introduce the concepts of competition, ion exchange in Sphagnum mosses and succession in peatlands.

Laboratory Exercise 1 – The ability to alter the pH of the water surrounding it is compared between Sphagnum moss and another non-moss aquatic plant.

Laboratory Exercise 2 – The ability of Sphagnum to alter the pH of the water surrounding it is compared with and without additional ions.

Teacher’s Notes – Pre-laboratory preparation, data collection, and Sphagnum collection are covered.

Credits: These resources were developed by Jon Swanson, M.S. (Edwin O. Smith High School, Storrs, CT), Jessica Budke, M.S., and Bernard Goffinet Ph.D. (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT) funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB-0919284).

Mosses at the Aspetuck Land Trust

Here are some photos from the Moss Workshop that I led at the Aspetuck Land Trust at Trout Brook Valley, CT in May. It was a fun group and we got to see quite a few great plants. 

Thanks to Heather Williams for helping to organize the workshop. Also thanks to the gal who took and sent me these photos. I can't recall her name at the moment. 

Passing out hand lenses and ID sheets before the walk.

 Scraping a moss off a rock. Probably an Orthotirchaceae. And now let me tell you about it. 
(At least my mouth wasn't gaping open mid-sentence.)

 Using a hand lens.

Endangered Species Day

I just read over at Uncommon Ground that today is Endangered Species Day. In the spirit of the day I thought that I would share some information on endangered bryophytes.

In 2008, 95 bryophyte species (including mosses, hornworts and liverworts) were assessed to determine their threat level, habitat, and distribution. (The full report from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) can be found here.)

The bryophytes have a detailed report that I was surprised to find on my shelf mashed among my other bryology books. I have linked to the report via googlebooks below. Looking over the report it has some really great information on bryophyte conservation in addition to the species list. They discuss the importance of bryophytes, which is critical for addressing "who cares?" questions that often surround these little plants. The answers that they highlight include: Ecological roles - water retention, peat formation, habitats for other organisms -- Pollution Indicators -- Economic and medicinal uses. Additionally large sections highlight the key habitats of bryophytes and their specific threats. They also examine these threatened species in a regional manner and discuss conservation measures that can be taken relating to bryophytes. 

I am definitely going to do a cover-to-cover read of this report before my next moss walk. (Not that I have any scheduled at the moment.) I think that it will really help me to organize and clarify my reasoning and arguments for the importance of bryophytes.

Happy Endangered Species Day!

Keeping up to Speed on the Bryology Literature

There is a phenomenal level of information and science production in the world today. Keeping up to speed on the latest research can be challenging. I have a list of keywords that I use to search through a couple different biological science search engines that the University of Connecticut subscribe (Web of Science and BIOSIS Previews). I try to run this search at least every other month.

Near the end of each volume of The Bryologist is a section entitled Recent literature on bryophytes. This is a great resource for keeping up to speed on the bryology literature. Listed in alphabetical order are a large number of bryology focused papers. I am not sure how the authors assemble this list. I would guess they do some searching using keywords through google scholar and have a list of bryology focused journals that they pull articles from. They also include articles published in languages other than english, but mention if there is an english abstract. If you missed the annual Botanical Society of America conference they include the bryology related abstracts in the list. I think that this is nice because it reminds me about the newest research that folks are working on in their laboratories. These presentations are often about research that is still a year or more away from publication. Doctoral dissertations and Master's degree theses are listed too. These publications can be pretty hard to locate, so it is quite nice that they are included. If the title does not have an obvious bryology connection or the species studied is not listed there is a brief note after the citation with this information.

Next time you are looking for the most recent bryology literature I would highly recommend checking out this list before searching around on your own.

The Evolution of Spores

The evolution of spores was a critical step in the transition of plants on to land. This paper discusses developmental transitions that may have transferred the formation of the spore wall from the zygote to the spores. I enjoyed reading the paper and thought that it was a really interesting developmental transition.

A Great Season for Mosses in the Pacific Northwest

The New York Times featured an article recently about the plethora of mosses growing in the Seattle area. A rainy winter and spring have produced a great environment for the mosses this year. One of the folks interviewed for the article works at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. They mention that this reserve "claims to have the largest moss garden on the continent". I noted in particular that they categorized this as a claim rather than a statement of fact. Maybe because they don't actually tell you how many acres the moss garden covers? Or no one is keeping a tally of the contest for largest moss garden in North America, so they can't quite be sure? If there was a contest with a reward rather than bragging rights only we might know if there is a larger moss garden out there.

Know of any other large moss gardens in North America? Or abroad?

Spring Cleaning

I did a little spring cleaning this week in preparation for a party at my apartment tonight. During the cleaning I ran across this shampoo and conditioner. Oh yes, you can have mosses added to your personal hair-care products. Look there, it says moss right on the bottle. I can't recall if I ever actually used this shampoo/conditioner. I think that I bought it on a lark. Either way it appears to have been discontinued by Aveda.

It lists Iceland Moss extract (Cetraria islandica) as one of the ingredients. But wait, when I looked up this species to find out more information I was in for a shock!

It is not a moss at all, but a lichen that goes by the name of Iceland Moss. Another bryophyte want-to-be. Not only has it been used in hair products, but is edible and has been used in folk medicines. Just goes to show that when it says it is a moss that does not necessarily mean that it is a bryophyte.

A New Look to the Blog

I thought that the blog was in need of an update. I have had the same style and background since setting it up in 2007. It is a work in progress and I am not sure if I will stick with this update as is or try and tweak it some more. Any comments would be appreciated!

Next up, revising my personal website.

Bryophytes on YouTube

I haven't been on YouTube in quite a long time to look for bryophyte videos. My labmate Juan Carlos recommended this video. A fun highlight is that you get to meet real live bryophytes that talk to the audience (see time 3:42). The costumes that the kids have are great and it is quite exciting to see young folks learning about bryophytes!

I did some more searching on YouTube and came across quite a number of video presentations used to communicate information about bryophytes. Here a couple for your educational-entertainment.

I really liked the part in this one where the water overflows from the antheridium dispersing the sperm to the egg. However I think that the part where thy have the spore production and dispersal is a little confusing. I am not sure exactly which concept they were trying to get across in that part.

Shading by Mosses

Shading of understory plants is caused by the leaves of the taller plants. Mosses have leaves that are typically one cell thick. In this study researchers determined that moss leaves actually block a large percentage the light. The shadowing that results as the leaves wave back and forth results in a flickering pattern of sun flecks that reach the plants beneath.

I think that it is a really cool study and pretty interesting that the mosses, despite having very thin leaves are able to block light creating sun flecks just like larger plants.

Swatland, H. J. 2011.Microphotometry of Underwater Shadowing by a Moss from a Niagara Escarpment Waterfall. Microscopy and Microanalysis 17:125-131.

Mosses Grow on a New Substrate. Whale!

Mosses grow on all sorts of substrates. Soil, tree bark, leaves, rocks, sand, dung, old socks abandoned in the woods, and now a whale! My labmates were out visiting the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory in Santa Cruz, California over spring break and they brought back these photos of some Funaria hygrometrica (cord mosses) growing on a whale skeleton outside of the center. When they first told me that they found mosses growing on a whale I totally did not believe them, but I was imagining a breathing swimming whale. They even got permission from the Marine Center to collect some of the moss for us to use in our research collection. The description of this collection location on the label is going to be great! Thanks Laura and Juan Carlos for the photos.

You can read more about 'Ms. Blue' the whale here on the Marine Center's website. She has a pretty interesting story that goes from finding a blue whale washed up on the shore to her most recent relocation.

Happy April Fools Day!

More Sphagnum research

Directly after the article that I posted about earlier this week was another on Sphagnum by Dr. Eric Karlin and colleagues.

Eric F. Karlin, Sandra B. Boles, Rodney D. Seppelt, Stefano Terracciano, and A. Jonathan Shaw. 2011. The Peat Moss Sphagnum cuspidatum in Australia: Microsatellites Provide a Global Perspective. Systematic Botany 36(1):22-32.

I have yet to read the paper, but here is my non-technical summary of the abstract.

Want to now more about the controversy surrounding the species Sphagnum cuspidatum? Back in the day it was thought to grow on all continents except Antarctica. More recently scientists have proposed that it is limited to Europe and eastern North America. Herein the authors ask the question who is right? Does this species really grow all over the world or does it have a more restricted range? (Cue the dramatic music.) Plants from all over the world were gathered, DNA was removed from their cells and used in some cool science work with microsatelites. The researchers found that Sphagnum cuspidatum grows worldwide in places including Australia, the Philippines, Columbia, and Equatorial Guinea in addition to Europe and eastern North America. And the mystery has been illuminated! Though in science there is always room for more data, and thus reinterpretation of previous results. So this might not be the last word.

And the etymology helps the name stick to your brain

A brief bit about one of the journal articles from Systematic Botany that I read this week.

Câmara, Paulo E. A. S. 2011. A Re-Circumscription of the Moss Genus Taxithelium (Pylaisiadelphaceae) with a Taxonomic Revision of Subgenus Vernieri.  Systematic Botany 36: 7-21.

It is a taxonomic revision. Meaning that the author looked at all the species within a particular group, by requesting samples from across the world. Then examined them morphologically to determine what the species have in common and how the species are each different. There is typically a key to the species (think a choose your own adventure book that ends at an identification for the plant), illustrations and detailed descriptions. Here, 11 species in the Subgenus Vernieri are examined. The author undertook a large amount of work by examining 6,200 specimens. This type of work can only be described as tedious and time consuming. But I think that this work is essential to establishing good morphologically based species. I am looking forward to seeing the results of his molecular analyses to see if the species hold up. The paper said that they are unpublished, so keep an eye out for the phylogeny in a journal near you.

The fun fact that will help you remember this name of this genus (Taxithelium) is the defining feature of its members. They have multiple papillae on each cell that are arranged in a row. Papillae are little bumps on the outside of the cell that are raised portions of the cell wall. The etymology of the genus name is taxi- taso = arranged and thelion = nipple. Yes you heard it here arranged - nipple. Not a genus name to be easily forgotten. (I wonder if this will result in a whole different set of search hits for the blog? Surprise a page about mosses instead.)

This is another article that I read by this author last year that I really enjoyed.

Câmara, Paulo E. A. S. and Elizabeth A. Kellogg. 2010. Morphology and development of leaf papillae in Sematophyllaceae The Bryologist 113: 22-33.

Do you remember Encyclopedia?

I grew up in rural Indiana and we did not get the internet until my late middle school / early high school years. Before then there were these fabulous items called Encyclopedia. Perhaps many of you remember them? They were a large hardbound set of books where you could answer all your burning knowledge questions, before Google. We had a set when I was growing up and I remember spending hours looking up countries, topics or animals that I was interested in reading about. Often I would have questions and my Dad would send me to the encyclopedia to look things up. It was so much more fulfilling than the internet.

So what stimulated this post? Recently Dr. Eric Karlin sent me an email letting me know about another article featuring his Sphagnum study in the encyclopedia Britannica blog. I thought it would be nice to link to this post and I thus had encyclopedia on my mind. Happy reading!

The Bazzania Girls Band

Another great find from Juan Carlos!

It is a band names after the liverwort genus Bazzania. The Bazzania Girls Band plays a mix of Americana style music that encompasses country, gospel and traditional tunes. I really wanted to listen to some of their tunes and they have a podcast on their website but I couldn't find any audio files online.

If anyone has heard the band play it would be great to hear what you think about them in the comments section. Thanks!

Bryo Course

This is an announcement for a field course that came out on Bryonet a couple of weeks back. I just wanted to share it with anyone who might be interested. 

Intermediate Field Bryology  
March 21-23, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Klamath Hall, University of Oregon

Class size is limited. Fee: $300.To reserve a space, send $25 deposit (non-refundable processing fee). The balance is due ten days before the workshop. Invoices can be provided on request. Checks or money orders are preferable; make out to "Northwest Botanical Institute" and send to my PO Box. Credit cards can be processed only through PayPal (submit payment to

Class will be held all day for three days, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
Emphasis in this workshop is on using contemporary keys for identifying mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Dissecting and compound microscopes will be on hand for observing the features necessary for using technical keys. Students with microscopes are urged to bring them. Methods of handling specimens and making preparations will be provided with ample practice material.

This is a very intensive workshop intended to give competence working with keys. All laboratory supplies needed for this class will be provided except specimen packets. Students should purchase the Keys to California mosses and liverworts prior to arrival. A list of recommended "Things to Bring" is below.

Travel, food and lodging for Introductory Field Bryology are the responsibility of the participants.  Participants should bring brown bag lunches each day; otherwise eateries are close by to the class site.

Additional information can be found below the fold.

I'll provide slides and cover slips for use in the workshop. If you have good pair of fine pointed forceps, bring them along. If you want to get some ahead of time, a good source for these is BioQuip (I recommend their 4523 or 4524.):

 Otherwise, I can loan some for the workshop.

10X hand lens required (a good quality one is nice; I use a Bausch & Lomb with Hastings triplet lenses). We use this in lab and field. A 20X is also useful as a second lens; it takes much light and practice to use well and should be a back up to your 10X lens.

Dissecting microscope, optional but desirable. Compound microscope, optional but desirable. If you have your own instruments, please bring them as it is best to work with your regular equipment. I will help you calibrate them for optimal clarity. We will have good instruments available for use in the class.

50 paper specimen packets to start; more than 50 will be needed by the end of the workshop. These are for your personal reference set. You will use them to hold material I distribute in class and that which you will gather on the field trip. Ordinary copy or recycled/reusable paper is fine for this class; I will demonstrate how to make archival packets suitable for institutional herbarium use. 

Writing paper, pens and pencils 
Drawing paper or unlined paper notebooks for drawings 

Primary textbook for mosses: "Contributions to a Bryoflora of California: II. A Key to the Mosses of California" by Norris and Shevock, Madroño vol. 51 No 2. If you don't have a copy, I have a few I'll provide at cost. 

For liverworts: "Contributions Toward a Bryoflora of California: III. Keys and annotated species catalog for liverworts and hornworts" by Doyle and Stotler. Madroño vol. 53 No 2. I have some copies of these, too, available at cost. 

Please try to get these before hand to study; the basic ordering protocol is: send check for $15 for each, $30 for both(payable to "California Botanical Society") to: 

California Botanical Society 
Jepson Herbarium 
1001 VSLB #2465 
University of California 
Berkeley, CA 94720-2465 
The secondary text for liverworts is the "HTML Guide to Oregon Liverworts" by David Wagner. This is a work in progress; each participant will receive a personal copy on CD at the workshop. 
Other useful books: 
"CALIFORNIA MOSSES" by Bill and Nancy Malcolm, Jim Shevock, and Dan Norris
Reviewed in GYROTHYRA 6 (ask if you haven't gotten this). Superb adjunct to the Madroño keys.  $68 each, plus $6.50 shipping (only $1.00 each for shipping additional copies)  and CA sales tax for California residents.

To order, visit the CNPS store:
"Some Common Mosses of British Columbia" by Wilf Schofield.  Best to get this directly from the Royal British Columbia Provincial Museum:  250-356-0505.  Have your credit card handy.  To get it through a book dealer in the U.S. will cost you MUCH more. (May be out of print.)

Flora of North America, volume 27, published 2007. Expensive but extremely valuable. If you can afford it, get from Oxford University Press. I have one copy to sell for a friend, new in box,at subscription cost ( about $85).

PLACES TO STAY. The following motels are within walking distance of campus:
Best Western Greentree Inn. 1759 Franklin Blvd. 541-485-2727; 800-937-8376
Best Western New Oregon Motel. 1655 Franklin Blvd. 541-683-3669; 800-937-8376
Days Inn, 1859 Franklin Blvd.  541-342-6383; 800-444-6383
Holiday Inn. 2117 Franklin Blvd. 541-342-1243; 800-456-6487
Phoenix Inn. 850 Franklin Blvd. 541-344-0001; 800-344-0131
University Inn. 1847 Franklin Blvd. 541-342-4804; 800-424-5213
Travelers Inn. 540 E Broadway. 541-342-1109; 800-432-5213

For other possibilities and info about Eugene, here's the visitor center site:

David H. Wagner, Ph.D.
Northwest Botanical Institute
P.O. Box 30064
Eugene, OR 97403-1064