Linley and I met less than two years ago in Germany. As an Alexander von Humboldt fellows we were both invited by the Foundation to the “Study Tour” around Germany. The trip took 2 weeks and we had the pleasure of visiting several cities, namely Würzburg, Bamberg, München, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Münster, Köln and Bonn. It was a magical time, free of worries for the organisation of the trip and the prices (almost whole trip was paid for by the Foundation!). All we had to do was enjoy and experience history, culture, and taste of our host country. In the meantime, the fellows sharing the bus got to know each other and friendships were formed. Linley was very open and friendly, which mattered a lot in the beginning, but later on, our common enthusiasm for tasting German food and beer and the love for plants made us spend most of the time together. Linley is currently a professor at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, she spent a year and a half at the Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany and will be returning to New Zealand soon. I’m very happy she agreed to share with us her main interest:
So I’m not going to describe my favourite plant, but rather my favourite group of plants… mosses. These small little “beasties” are under appreciated in my point of view. When I say I work on mosses, the first thing many people ask me is how to get rid of them in their lawn. Which is a shame. Unlike the grass in your lawn mosses don’t have true roots and get their nutrients from dust in the air. So they are not competing with your grass for nutrients at all.
And they are very beautiful:
But I’m digressing… one of the reasons I’m such a fan of mosses is the many ways they overcome the fundamental challenges of all life – how to have sex or other ways of reproducing one’s self. Plants, like animals have eggs and sperms and in most these combine to produce offspring. In flowering plants these are not motile and are called egg cells and sperm cells. But in mosses the sperm are flagellated, as occurs in animals. Because plants don’t move there are numerous challenges in having the egg and sperm encounter each other! Flowering plants do this by utilising wind, animals like bees and birds, and in some cases water. The huge diversity of flowers out there is a direct result of the complex ways in which plants must manipulate animals to perform this fundamental activity. One of the old “truths” I learnt about mosses in my undergraduate days was that they required water for the sperm to move, and because sperm can’t swim very far sex is restricted. However like all “old truths” things end up being more complex and fascinating. Researchers at Lund University have shown that microarthropods “springtails” can also move sperm around to increase fertilization success. But what I think is really neat is that later research from Portland State University showed that male and female mosses release different chemicals into the air to attract the springtails. So mosses are manipulating animals, just as flowering plants do. You can read more about this here (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/313/5791/1255.long) and here (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7416/full/nature11330.html), but if you don’t have access to the scientific journals this blog post summarises it nicely (http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/accumulating-glitches/of_moss_and_microarthropods). I think that is seriously awesome! And something to think about when you are wandering around your lawn in bare feet….