In their 2017 article in ‘Nature Plants’ on the ‘Ex situ conservation of plant diversity in the world’s botanic gardens’ Brockington, Smith and Mounce stated ‘The lack of coverage for Bryophyte taxa [in ex-situ collections] denies their importance, as they represent key stages in land plant evolution, occur in endangered habitats such as peatland, host diverse microbiota and play a central role in nutrient cycling. Given the vascular plant emphasis of botanic gardens, this finding is unsurprising; however, the magnitude of the deficit calls for action. Many living collections host incidental collections of Bryophytes, and an increase in Bryophyte representation could be achieved by documenting existing taxa, as well as through specific acquisition strategies and horticultural innovation.’
In response to this statement, in 2017 a full Bryophyte survey of the garden here at FossilPlants was conducted. 34 different species of moss and liverwort were discovered across our 115m² (over 4% of Welsh Bryophyte species).
Around 510 – 630 million years ago, the land plants evolved from aquatic green algae changing the face of the earth and allowing a myriad of new life to evolve on land. The arrival of the land-plants kick-started a evolutionary process which would eventually arrive at our own evolution. The Bryophytes are known to be the earliest diverging lineages of the extant land plants.
Bryophytes are small (the biggest is Dawsonia which can grow to 50cm tall), non-vascular plants, such as mosses, liverworts and hornworts. They depend on water for reproduction and survival and as such they prefer moist habitats (like here in Llanberis). They do not have seeds but instead they reproduce via spores. A thin layer of water is required on their surface of their environment to enable the movement of sperm between gametophytes (The gametophyte is the sexual phase in the life cycle of plants and algae).
Bryophytes can be defined by three characteristics:
- Their life cycles are dominated by the gametophyte stage
- Their sporophytes are unbranched
- They do not have a true vascular tissue containing lignin (although some have specialized tissues for the transport of water)
Bryophytes are good indicators of habitat quality as many plant species in this group are sensitive to levels of moisture and nutrient in their environment and in the atmosphere.
With its moderate climate and high rainfall, Wales has three quarters of the 1110 British bryophyte species, but many of the our 811 Welsh species are under threat of extinction. Habitat loss and degradation, alongside climate change and high nutrient levels in the environment, are the most significant threats.
26 mosses and liverworts (3%) are believed to have been lost from Wales in the last 150 years, many from Snowdonia. Another 173 have shown such significant declines.
Mosses and Liverworts make up a significant proportion of the botanical diversity found in the UK and with so many found in Wales we (here in Wales) have a special responsibility to look after them. Thus it was very important to us to get a better understanding of those species we were caring for right here in the garden and to improve our knowledge of their cultivation. With 34 moss and liverwort species to look after we have all of a sudden become hyper aware of these special and amazing little plants.
We see this as the first step in a wider project to conserve Bryophytes ex-situ within the garden and hope to cultivate (with emphasis on those threatened in the wild) many more species in the future.
You can find out more about Welsh Bryophytes and their conservation in the Bryophyte red data list for Wales (click on the picture to download the list).