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Towards a moss sclerophylly continuum: Evolutionary history, water chemistry and climate control traits of hygrophytic mosses

Journal article
Authors M. Fernandez-Martinez
F. Berloso
J. Corbera
J. Garcia-Porta
Ferran Sayol
C. Preece
F. Sabater
Published in Functional Ecology
Volume 33
Issue 12
Pages 2273-2289
ISSN 0269-8463
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 2273-2289
Language en
Keywords bryophytes, calcium carbonate, life-history traits, morphology, water conductivity, species traits, environment relationships, functional diversity, aquatic, bryophytes, carbon source, trade-offs, plant, 4th-corner, variables, responses, Environmental Sciences & Ecology
Subject categories Environmental Sciences, Ecology


Mosses are amongst the oldest and simplest plants, they can be found almost everywhere in the world, and they condition the structure and function of many ecosystems. Their sensitivity to environmental changes makes them very interesting subjects of study in ecology, and understanding them can provide insights into the evolutionary history of plants. However, the study of moss traits and their relationship with their environment is far behind that of vascular plants. We sampled 303 assemblages of aquatic and semi-aquatic (hygrophytic) mosses growing in semi-natural springs distributed around the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula to study how moss traits vary depending on their evolutionary history, climate and water chemistry. To do so, we analysed 30 moss species and 17 traits using phylogenetic comparative methods and an extended RLQ analysis, accounting for spatial and phylogenetic information. We hypothesized that there is a sclerophylly continuum in mosses living across a gradient of high and low water conductivity springs that may mimic sclerophylly in vascular plants that live in stressful environments. Results indicated that life-forms and, especially, morphological traits were well preserved phylogenetically and responsive to water chemistry and climate. That combined with spatial autocorrelation in environmental variables resulted in a clustered distribution of phylogenetically closely related mosses in space. Mosses living in springs with a warm and dry climate that discharge hard water mainly presented species with needle-like leaves, were denser, and had lower water absorption capacity. The opposite was found in cold, humid and soft water springs. Synthesis. Our results suggest that climate and water chemistry are main determinants of traits of hygrophytic mosses and of species distributions. We found evidence of a potential sclerophylly continuum in moss traits, which we hypothesize may be mainly related to physical and physiological constraints produced by water chemistry. Our findings describe moss sclerophylly in a gradient of water conductivity similar to that found in vascular plants with water availability and temperature. Further experimental studies will be required to confirm the observations found in this study. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

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