Field of Science

Mosses at Trout Brook Valley

I led a moss walk at the end of April at Trout Brook Valley, which is part of the Aspetuck Land Trust in southwestern Connecticut. Unfortunately we had a pretty dry April and the mosses were a little crispy. However, we did locate some that we lush and moist on this drippy rock wall. 

Here we are checking out some mosses growing on a rock. 

Hand-lenses in action!

Thanks to everyone who attended the walk and to Heather Williams Walklet for sending these photos.

The Map of Life. Mapping mosses next?

Have you heard about the Map of Life? They just released their first demo version of the mapping program. The program integrates data on species distributions from a number of sources, such as, point data from collection records, local inventories, and regional checklists. You can either look up a particular species and see where it lives or choose a location in the world and see a list of the species that occur there.   

Thus far they have included Birds, Freshwater fishes, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Mammals. I have suggested to one of my fellow UConn alums, Adam Wilson, who is working on the project, that mosses be added to the mapping list next. Mosses are listed in the Global Biodiversity Inventory Facility (Gbif), so the data is available to add them to this project, but I am guessing that I will have to wait a while until mosses are included. What group would you like to see added to the mapping next? 

Below is an example of the maps that are produced. They use Google Maps and can show multiple layers of distribution data from different sources. The maps are fully interactive and allow you to zoom in to a particular area of interest. I think that this is going to be a really great resource for scientists and amateur naturalists. Imagine going on travels or a collecting trip and being able to pull up a list of all the species in your area, and also a map of previous collection sites so that you can hunt for organisms. (This does assume that you have a fancy phone with web capabilities for the field and that you are not somewhere too remote for a signal.) However, I think that this would be a useful tool prior to heading into the field or for planning a collecting trip.

As an example, this is the distribution map from the smooth earthsnake that I posted about last week.

Some additional information
 - An article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution about the project.

Spore Dispersal by Snakes

I tend to avoid snakes in life in general, but this snake is having a super cool interaction with a moss. If you look closely, it appears that this smooth earthsnake is covered in moss spores!

Close-up of the snake's head.

Close-up of the bright green spores coming out of the moss capsule. 

What do you think? I think that they look like spores on the snake. How long will they stick or how far can the snake go without them falling off? Easy to guess, hard to measure.  Probably a little ways, maybe further depending on how quickly they dry and the cover of plants the snake is crawling through. I think that spore dispersal by animals is a very interesting phenomenon and is under documented in the literature. Have a favorite spore dispersing creature or photos you would like to share?

Thanks to Tobias Landberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Murray State University in Kentucky, for taking and sending me these photos.

Moss Sperm Surviving Desiccation

When I think about moss reproduction, I usually think about the fact that mosses have flagellated sperm that require water to swim to the female archegonium that holds the egg. Researchers at Portland State University have been thinking about sperm survival when desiccated. I think that this is a really interesting question. Imagine that it rains and a moss sperm begins its journey swimming toward and egg. What happens if mid-travel the water dries up and the sperm is stranded? Can the sperm cell survive and resume its journey when it is wet again? 

In this study, the effects of desiccation on sperm cells were examined in three moss species.

They found that a fraction of the sperm were able to survive desiccation (e.g., Ceratodon purpureus, on average 17% survived) and the desiccation tolerance did not vary significantly among species. These results indicate the possibility of a sperm bank existing on the landscape. I have heard about a seed bank and a spore bank, but had not thought about a sperm bank before. I think that this is a pretty cool idea and as the authors mention has significant implications for understanding moss mating systems. That is just one finding from this paper. There is a lot more about desiccation tolerance, the effect of sucrose on sperm survival, and sperm variation. I highly recommend checking out this paper if you are interested in learning more. I think that it is good science and a well-written research article. Kudos to the authors. 

May 2012 Desktop Calendar

Well my hopes for April, when I said I was going to make some time for blog posting, were not realized. Not a single post. Except for the calendar. May will hopefully be better, thought starting off with a calendar post on day 11 is not the best start.

I have decided to blame the lack of April posts on an ongoing case of poison ivy and the delay in the calendar on graduation last weekend. May productivity here I come!

Below, on the calendar, is an unidentified Grimmiaceae from my collecting trip to Kansas and Missouri in March. This little tuft is going to remind me to get things done and to identify him/her by the end of the month. Maybe blog posting on monthly goals is good motivation?

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.

Any issues or suggestions please let me know. These calendars are an experiment in-progress.