Revealing the world of tiny plants

Research undertaken through the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research has led to a better understanding of the world of the tiny and ancient bryophytes.

The Challenge

Evolution of tiny plants

Hornworts, liverworts and mosses are all spore-producing plants known as bryophytes.

Bryophytes can live in a wide range of ecosystems from Antarctica to arid Australia and even suburban backyards.

Bryophytes include hornworts, liverworts and mosses.

In Australia there are approximately 2,000 species of bryophytes, made up of about 1,100 species of mosses, 900 liverworts and 30 hornworts.

These typically small plants are important in water retention and nutrient recycling in many habitats, including forming biological soil crusts, which prevent soil erosion in rangelands in semi-arid and arid regions.

Bryophytes are also interesting from an evolutionary point of view, being considered the amphibians of the plant world for the ancient characteristics that link them both to their algal ancestors and to terrestrial plants.

Yet there is still much mystery surrounding the evolution of these important plants.

Our Response

Gaining a better understanding of bryophytes

Our researchers are using the collection at the Australian National Herbarium to better understand the taxonomy, evolutionary relationships, biogeography and ecology of bryophytes.

The Results

Sharing valuable knowledge

Our research has built a better picture of the relationship of the hornwort genus Megaceros worldwide.

We also discovered that the New World species of tropical Central and South America are not closely related to the Old World taxa in our own region.

The Australian Bryophytes website was developed to share this knowledge and highlight the importance of bryophytes to ecology.

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