Describe the ecological role of mosses

1. Pioneer species: One of the first species to colonize a disturbed or barren area. This
term is applied to moss because it, along with lichens, is one of the
first life forms to grow on bare rock, helping to break it down and
begin the formation of soil.
Soil formation: Mosses contribute to soil formation. The physical action of their
rhizoids, along with their acidic chemical action, helps to crumble
rock. This forms soil when coupled with the decaying organic
matter of the moss itself.
Affect on soil and bog pH: Mosses lower the pH of their surroundings. That is, they
make them more acidic.
Habitat for other life forms: Mosses provide habitat for many other small life forms
such as insects.
“Mosses, liverworts and hornworts are found throughout the world
in a variety of habitats. They flourish particularly well in moist,
humid forests like the fog forests of the Pacific northwest or the
montane rain forests of the southern hemisphere. Their ecological
roles are many. They provide seed beds for the larger plants of the
community, they capture and recycle nutrients that are washed with
rainwater from the canopy and they bind the soil to keep it from
eroding. In the northern hemisphere peatlands, wetlands often
dominated by the moss Sphagnum, are particularly important
bryophyte communities. This moss has exceptional water-holding
capacity, and when dried and compressed, forms a coal-like fuel.
Throughout northern Europe, Asia and North America, peat has
been harvested for centuries for both fuel consumption and
horticultural uses and today peatlands are managed as a sustainable
Source: Barbara Crandall-Stotler, Southern Illinois University
2. Mosses in a bog soak up water really well, bringing water onto their tiny scales
(sometimes erroneously referred to as “leaves”). The net result is that a lot of water is
evaporated from the tremendous surface area provided by the mosses of a bog. The
energy for the conversion of liquid water to gaseous water comes from the
surrounding atmosphere, so the temperature drops locally. As a result, plants that
require a cool climate to survive can do so in a peat bog. One species of plant exists
in the peat bogs near Vancouver, Canada, where the temperature is relatively low
close to the ground year round – the next nearest place this particular species of plant
lives is in the Arctic!
LINKS: Moss Photo Gallery
Bog Restoration
(© 2004. C.K. Robinson, Summerland Community Learning Centre, School District No. 67)