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Type: Article
Published: 2021-06-30
Page range: 234–252
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500 million years of charted territory: functional ecological traits in bryophytes

Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA
Department of Biology, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, 05753, USA
bryophyte Ecosystem processes effect traits land plants liverwort moss poikilohydry response traits


Since the late Cambrian era, bryophytes have been shaping terrestrial ecosystems through unique and diverse suites of anatomical, physiological, and morphological traits. In this review we highlight historical and recent work in bryophyte functional ecology, with an emphasis on knowledge gaps and opportunities for future work. While we cannot always avoid the temptation to contrast with tracheophyte (especially angiosperm) studies, our aim is to de-center that perspective in favor of a more universal understanding of functional land plant ecology. We therefore center our description on three core aspects of bryophytes that are poorly represented in tracheophyte studies: (I) dynamic water content (including poikilohydry and desiccation tolerance), (II) multiple scales of interaction with environment, and (III) reproduction and life history. We also highlight the diverse and wide-ranging influence bryophytes have on ecosystem processes, including primary productivity, nutrient cycling, hydrology, and ecological interactions with other species. Furthermore, while the study of bryophyte functional traits has rapidly grown in the past decade, important gaps in phylogenetic and geographic coverage persist and constrain the development of a more universal land plant functional ecology theory.


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