Bryophytes in Forest Ecosystems

Authored by: Nicole J. Fenton , Kristoffer Hylander , Emma J. Pharo

Routledge Handbook of Forest Ecology

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415735452
eBook ISBN: 9781315818290
Adobe ISBN: 9781317816447


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Bryophytes are a polyphyletic group that have existed for millions of years, with over 17,000 species of bryophytes found globally (Vanderpoorten and Goffinet 2009). This includes species in three divisions that differ from one another morphologically and reproductively. The recent suggestion is that there are 5,000 species of liverworts, the most ancient group of bryophytes, 12,000 species of mosses, the most diverse and abundant group which also includes the peat mosses, and 300 species of hornworts, the most recent branch (Vanderpoorten and Goffinet 2009). Despite their separation into different taxonomic groups, together they differ from vascular plants in a few fundamental ways that make a significant difference to their distribution and diversity. Specifically, bryophytes have:

no reinforced vascular tissue, which means they are rarely taller than a few centimetres;

like all plants, bryophytes alternate between haploid and diploid generations. In contrast to vascular plants, the haploid gametophyte stage is dominant;

spores as the means of sexual reproduction, most of which are about 10–50 µm and are easily borne by the wind;

various means of vegetative reproduction including specialized structures and plant fragments;

a poikilohydric habit, which means that many bryophytes can fully dehydrate and suspend function in times of drought.

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