Field of Science

Did Mosses Ruin the Planet?

The mosses crept out of the ocean, covering the bare rocks on our desolate planet over 400 million years ago. They sped up the chemical weathering of the rocks and decreased atmospheric carbon dioxide. These nefarious changes triggered glaciation events and a mass marine extinction! Muahahaha...... (yes mosses have an evil laugh) and that is how mosses conquered the land.

A couple of weeks ago, research was published examining the above scenario. The researchers carried out an experiment where they examined the ability of the moss Physcomitrella patens to weather rocks. One of the thoughts was that since mosses do not have true roots they might not alter substrates, such as rocks, in a similar manner. However, they found that the mosses secreted several different organic acids, just like vascular plants. Thus they have the ability to break down and weather rocks. This secretion of organic acids by mosses was not something I had heard about before. Their experiment only examined weathering with and without mosses. But when colonizing land the mosses were not alone. They would have been accompanied by fungi too. The researchers anticipate that the mosses in conjunction with fungal symbionts may even have greater weathering abilities!

Overall I think that it is a really interesting study connecting the colonization of land by mosses to historic patterns of climate change. It shows just how powerful and important plants are for life on our planet! 

This post was inspired by a friend who sent me a link to this sarcastic and funny article about this research. I take mild offense to the author calling the mosses names, but otherwise I enjoyed the piece. Thanks Emily!

A Desktop Calendar Experiment

I change the background image on my computer once a month and I really like having a calendar on my computer desktop, since I don't have a wall calendar in the office. For the past several years I have been using the desktop calendars from Chocolate and Zucchini, a food blog that I follow. Unfortunately, she is no longer making the images with calendars. Thus I was left with a dilemma. I need to find a new place to get my desktop calendars. I didn't find any that I really wanted to look at for a month, so I decided to make my own. I have a lot of bryophyte images that I wouldn't mind looking at for a month and here is the result. 

If you are interested in downloading this desktop calendar follow the instructions below. 

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 loose 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 as Desktop Picture". The wording may vary.  

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

I hope that the image comes through with enough resolution and that I positioned the calendar well so that it doesn't get cut off. Any issues or suggestions please let me know. This is totally an experiment and we shall see how it goes.

And I almost forgot the bryological information. These are leafy gametophytes of the moss Funaria hygrometrica (cord moss) that I grew in the laboratory. It is a population from Connecticut that I used for my PhD research.