Mosses are among the oldest land plants. They are found all over the world, from lush tropical rainforests to the driest deserts and even the windswept hills of Antarctica.

They are everywhere; grows in cracks along roads and paths, on tree trunks, on rocks and buildings, and especially on the ground.

Dylan Shaw/Unsplash

Yet despite this ubiquity, we have a relatively poor understanding of how important they are, particularly the types of mosses that thrive on soil.

New global research on ground mosses, published today in Nature Geoscience, shows they play a crucial role in sustaining life on our planet. Without ground mosses, the earth’s ability to produce healthy soils, provide habitat for microbes, and fight pathogens would be severely limited.

Ground moss with fruiting bodies (capsules). David Eldridge, author provided.

A global survey of ground mosses

The results of the new study suggest we may have underestimated the importance of ground mosses.

Using data from 123 sites on all continents, including Antarctica, we show that soil under mosses has more nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium and greater activity of soil enzymes than bare surfaces without plants.

In fact, mosses affect all major soil functions, increasing carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and organic matter breakdown. These processes are critical to sustaining life on Earth.


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