Field of Science

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.


  1. Hi Jessica,

    I am quite impressed with “Moss Plants and More”. It is clearly done out of a love for the plants and does much to promote the little critters. Thanks for shining a spotlight on our Sphagnum research!

    Another dimension of the S. cuspidatum paper: interploidal hybridization is shown to have occurred between the gametophytically haploid S. cuspidatum and the alloidiploid cytotype of S. falcatulum. This hybridization eventually led to the evolution of the gametophytically allotriploid cytotype of S. falcatulum (which is a double allopolyploid - i.e. has genomes from three different species).

    Eric Karlin

  2. Hi Eric,
    Thanks for the kind word about the blog. It initially sprang from a seminar that I participated on scientific communication. I really enjoy highlighting professional bryophyte research and attempting to make it accessible to a general audience.

    The polyploidization and origin of new taxa is an interesting twist to the story. I think that there is a lot of polyploidization that occurs in mosses but flies under the radar. Many species are reported as having multiple ploidy races within a single species. But without any morphological differences to go along with these different autopolyploids it seems almost impossible to try and give them separate names.

    Thanks for the additional info!



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