How to collect and identify bryophytes, for beginners 2

My name is Åse Meling Underhaug. I am currently on my second semester on my master in Biodiversity, evolution, and ecology. My main interests are in terrestrial ecology, vegetation change, and climate change. I am fascinated by everything that grows and moves here on earth, and how we humans during the period we are in, the Anthropocene, have affected and changed the living factors for everything around us. But to understand the “big picture” and predict what will happen in the future, I must understand how things are today. How does species interact in an ecosystem? Which species grow together in a community? What determine where a species can grow?  And lastly, how to analyse and species determine bryophytes?

Originally coming from Fitjar, located on Stord island, I figured that a mountain close by would be the perfect study location to explore species richness. Siggjo is a mountain located in an oceanic area. It rises 474 meter above the ocean and has a distinctive cone shape (fig 1).  Why a mountain? A mountain is an elevated portion of the earths crust. Reaching hundreds of meters up in the sky, along the mountain gradient the microclimates differ notably.   The communities found could differ from step to step. Each species of bryophytes has its own optimal climate to grow in. Some likes it dry, some soaking wet. Some shade, some flooding in sunlight. Therefore, the species richness of bryophytes will vary along the mountain gradient. This semester, I will (1) examine and study the richness of bryophytes on the mountain Siggjo. (2) Learn to species determine and aquire more knowledge about the speciesrichness of bryophytes.

Fig 1 Siggjo foto: Svein Andersland

Underneath you’ll find a five step list of what to think about when sampling bryophytes:

Fig 2 A 25×25 cm square where used to limit the area where bryophytes where sampled.

1. Look closely. At first sight, there may not appear to be that many species of bryophytes in the vegetation. But with closer examination there could be multiple species hiding under grass and flowers, even under larger species of bryophytes there could be some hiding. Bryophytes could survive at a lot of different places, even where there is little room,  is dark, or very moist.

2.Dress for the job. When wandering in the mountains, the weather could be unpredictable. Always bring clothes that can withstand wind, and rain. When collecting I was even surprised by snow.

3. Bring the right tools. Since mosses are what is called microvegetation, it lies in the word that the samples could be very small. Instead of relying on om my abilities at species determining in the field, I collected the species and brought them to the lab. A knife, magnifying glass, handheld loupe, paper bags for collecting, a sample square (fig 2), and pen and paper, were essential.

Fig 3 My dad, Sigurd Underhaug, employed as field assistant.

4. Grab a friend. Collecting samples in the field is a time-consuming activity but getting some help could speed things up. One could get down in the vegetation and find samples, while the other measure the height, find paper bags and write the plot number. Sharing the work can make the sampling easier, more efficient, and fun.


5.Find the most fitting literature. Thousands and thousands of books and webpages about bryophytes exists but choosing which to use is difficult. The perfect book to use needs to include the species from the area you are studying, an understandable key system which you manage to manoeuvre (I like a lot of illustrations), and a register that is clear, also some good pictures would not hurt. The book I chose was “Mossor en fältguide” by Thomas Hallingbäck, which is a complete flora with keys to all bryophytes in The Nordic countries.








Thank you for reading!



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2 thoughts on “How to collect and identify bryophytes, for beginners

  • Vigdis

    Hei Åse! God og relevant bakgrunn, og så artig med en skikkelig D-I-Y guide til mosefeltarbeid! Det ser ut som faren din er godt opplært – så her har du også spredd kiunnskapen videre! Gleder meg til å se hva du finner av moser på Siggjo! Husk å legge dem inn i Artsobservasjoner – for den kunnskapen vi har om arters utbredelser i naturen er i stor grad basert på innsamlinger slike som du har gjort. Og det er mindre data på litt vanskelige grupper (som moser) enn på lettere grupper (som karplanter og fugl).