Monday 25 March 2019

Airport Bryology (March 2019)

A couple of weeks ago, Brad Scott visited our site to continue his discovery of Gatwick's bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) which inhabit the surrounding landscape. In just one day he recorded well over 40 species and even found something new and exciting to the airport!

A community of mosses; swirls of Cylindrical Beard-moss Didymodon insulanus

Bryophytes are small plants with no vascular tissue, mostly living in damp places, although some are surprisingly drought-tolerant. These tiny, ancient life forms are important pioneers of bare ground and vertical surfaces, such as walls and tree bark, where other plants often cannot gain a foothold. On just one old willow tree along the River Mole, we found around 10 different species of mosses and liverworts.

Brad Scott and volunteer Donald along the River Mole at Povey Cross

They provide ecosystem functions; trapping particulate organic matter, minerals and water, often changing the nature of substrate and making it more habitable for other lifeforms. Other colonists then able to take hold include fungi, small vascular plants and microscopic invertebrates such as springtails and mites, forming ecosystems of interconnected lifeforms on a tiny scale.

The hollow of an old Willow tree is a microhabitat in itself

I had some fun using a cheap macro lens clip for my smartphone, taking close-up shots of the specimens Brad was identifying. Some mosses have been assigned common names to try to make them seem more familiar and accessible, however it is debatable how helpful these names actually are!

Elegant Bristle-moss Orthotrichum pulchellum with fruiting capsules

Grey-cushioned Grimmia Grimmia pulvinata

Forked Veilwort Metzgeria furcata

Lecanora chlarotera - a lichen without a common name

Brad's find of the day was the tiny rare liverwort shown below, Fossombronia caespitiformis. The leaves are obscured by the moss in the foreground, but the fruiting bodies are the little black balls on the end of the stalks. These plants can only be identified to species by looking at the decoration of spores (which Brad tells me is not as hard as it sounds!). This one is very exciting as it is nationally scarce and hasn't been recorded in Sussex or Surrey for ages.

Fossombronia caespitiformis subsp. caespitiformis 
(apparently the common name for this one is Spanish Frillwort)

Fossombronia spores and spiraled elaters (photo by Brad Scott)

Brad is also an avid recorder of springtails (collembola); tiny invertebrates only a few millimeters in size, which are related to insects but don't quite qualify as they have internal mouthparts.

Isotomurus gramineus, a fairly commons species found next to the rare Fossombronia 
(photo by Brad Scott)

I didn't manage to photograph any springtails myself, but a few other tiny invertebrates managed to keep still for long enough for me to get my lens up close.

A juvenile crab spider, I think the species is Xysticus cristatus

I got rather overly distracted by a battle between two ants within an (Orthitricum?!) moss...

I think these are two different Lasius species; the black one being Lasius niger and the pinkish one Lasius flavus.

It went on for so long, I didn't have time to see who was the victor!

Many thanks to Brad for all of the identifications (and corrections!) for this blogpost.

1 comment :

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