Plant Ecology and Evolution 154(3): 419-431, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2021.1839
Moss phyllid morphology varies systematically with substrate slope
expand article infoCaleb M. Turberville, Jesualdo A. Fuentes-González, Sydney Rogers, Jason Pienaar
‡ Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 35475, United States of America
Open Access

Background and aims – Tracheophyte leaf morphology is well studied but it is unclear if the findings generalize to poikilohydric plants. We tested combinations of hypotheses to determine if microhabitat characteristics, including light exposure, moisture availability, and substrate slope, controlled for morphological differences between upright and prostrate growth forms, affect phyllid surface area and costa length of mosses.

Material and methods – We quantified mean phyllid surface-area and costa lengths for four replicates of 38 moss species from Alabama. Phylogenetic comparative methods that model adaptation were used to evaluate the relative evidence for each hypothesis using information criteria. To further explore mechanistic explanations involving substrate slope, we tested whether mosses on vertical substrates differed from those on horizontal substrates in the average amount of water-retaining, nutrient-rich litter they accumulated.

Key results – Substrate slope and growth form combined were the best predictors of phyllid surface area. Mosses growing on vertical substrates exhibited smaller phyllid surface area for both growth forms. Although growth form and phyllid length best explained costa length variation, a more complex model including substrate slope performed nearly as well. Within the prostrate growth forms, species growing on vertical substrates exhibit longer relative costa than those on horizontal substrates. We also estimated rapid rates of adaptation for both traits.

Conclusion – The smaller phyllid surface area of both upright and prostrate growth forms is possibly an adaptive response to reduced habitat moisture-retention or nutrient quality that vertical substrates offer. The longer costa lengths of prostrate mosses growing on vertical surfaces relative to prostrate mosses on horizontal surfaces, possibly make up for the decreased ability of smaller phyllids to rapidly reabsorb water when it is available. Further work is required to determine if it is truly substrate slope itself that matters or other variables associated with the differences in slope, and to determine how general this phenomenon is.

adaptation, Bryophyta, costa, desiccation resistance, morphometrics, Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process, phylogenetic comparative method, phyllid morphology, poikilohydry


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