MICRO CLIMATES WITH MACRO IMPLICATIONS: HOW BRYOPHYTES HELP DEFINE THE WORLD AROUND US
Brendon Reidy1, Stephanie Maxwell1, Charlie DeLavoi2, Juan Larrain2, Laura Briscoe2, Matt von Konrat2, Thomas Campbell1.
1Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL, 2The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL.
Bryophytes (liverworts, hornworts, and mosses) play important roles both ecologically and economically in ecosystems worldwide, yet their role in community interactions remains widely unknown. Their small sizes allow them to fill essential niches within the food webs to which they belong. Bryophytes also contribute to global carbon and nitrogen fixation capacity, absorb large quantities of water, and release organic acids which can decrease decomposition rates within their communities. Their unique physiology makes them particularly vulnerable to climatic variations as well as to changes in soil and water pH. Given their acute sensitivity and reliance upon environmental conditions, their presence in the ecosystem has the potential to indicate broader trends in forest health. To examine bryophyte and forest community interactions in particular, we are conducting a multisite survey of bryophyte species between high and low quality oak woodlands within the northeastern Illinois area. We chose two areas of high quality as judged by invasive frequency, canopy trees, history of the woodland, presence of streams, and decorticated wood and two areas of low quality defined by these same standards, but at a lower level overall. We then compared the areas for bryophyte diversity. Furthermore, we correlated these species distribution patterns with soil and climate data. From this study, we hope to determine the relative utility of using bryophytes as an indicator of overall forest health in Illinois.