Drawing by Sarah Webb
Dr. Steven K. Rice
Schenectady, NY 12308
Functional significance of variation in bryophyte structure
For vascular plants, the ecological and evolutionary significance of characteristics that affect growth, survival and reproduction has led to an understanding of the functional tradeoffs associated with plant diversification. For example, knowledge of the functional differences in plants with C-3 and C-4 photosynthesis and their response to water and light gradients has led to an understanding of the ecological dynamics of these species. The approximately 20,000 non-vascular bryophyte species display a similarly wide range of ecological, morphological, physiological and reproductive diversity. However, very little is known about the functional significance of that variation. In my research, I employ comparative methods to investigate the evolutionary origin and functional consequences of morphological and physiological variation with a focus on peatmosses (mosses in the genus Sphagnum) and on other bryophytes of temperate regions. Members of the Sphagnum genus are taxonomically, morphologically and ecologically diverse with over 200 species existing worldwide. In addition, peatmosses dominate community and ecosystem dynamics in extensive, nutrient-limited systems in temperate and boreal regions. Thus, the peatmosses are an attractive model system for understanding the evolution and ecological significance of vegetative variation in non-vascular plants.