Living moss carpets have a vital impact on biodiversity

Under the roof of what was once to become the residence of the future King of Finland, researchers painstakingly study herbarium specimens of mosses, liverworts and hornworts, also known as bryophytes.

"Mining is especially devastating for bryophytes as their habitat is completely destroyed," Collection Coordinator Sannamaija Laaka-Lindberg, from the Museum of Natural History LUOMUS at the University of Helsinki, explains.

"Studying bryophytes helps us understand how plants have evolved on our planet. Their role in the ecosystem is important. The museum collections help us to show, e.g. climate change or changes in biodiversity. Peat mosses produce peat, which absorbs carbon and they are sensitive to the level of moisture in the atmosphere."  

First plants that turned Earth green

Her colleague Xiaolan He, who works as Curator of Bryophytes at the Herbarium Collections, tells us why mosses, liverworts and hornworts are important.

"They were likely the first plants on dry land and may probably be among the last to survive. Bryophytes tell us about the evolution and how plants have developed. They were among the first green plants to successfully colonize land. It happened about 470 million years ago from their fresh water green algal ancestors. Bryophytes are among the most common vegetation in forests. The green cushion or carpet we see in the forests is very effective in water maintenance."

"Bryophytes show us one of the most successful strategies in plant evolution.  They are hardy and they are able to strive on rocks, high mountains and also in deserts, practically all terrestrial habitats.  The Finnish climate with lots of rain and little evaporation is suitable for bryophytes as they thrive in humid conditions."

"We look up towards the trees and the sky, but we should not forget to look at the smallest plants. Open your eyes and look down towards the ground. It is covered with spectacular carpets of bryophytes around us. Yet so few of us notice them," says Xiaolan He.

" There are over 900 bryophyte species found in Finland, representing half of the European bryophyte diversity. Sadly, many specialized spring bryophytes and species of old-growth forests have become threatened due to degradation of habitats, because of urbanization, forestry practice and other human disturbance.  Currently 20% of the bryophyte diversity have been classified as threatened and 4% as regionally extinct in Finland," Xiaolan He concludes.

The Treasures of the Herbarium Collection | University of Helsinki

Videot: Helena Hiltunen