Bryophytes and lichens: Small but indispensable forest dwellers

Fact Sheet 154-02

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* What is a Bryophyte? * Bryophytes are the small green plants commonly known as mosses, liverworts and hornworts. Compared to plants, they have primitive tissues for conducting food and water, and they lack a protective outer surface to maintain water balance. Most bryophytes, because they lack tissues such as roots, obtain their water through direct surface contact with their environment. During dry weather they have the capacity to withstand complete dehydration. Bryophytes that are dry may appear dead but will regain normal function when moisture is available. Instead of producing seeds, bryophytes can either reproduce sexually by means of spores, or asexually when small pieces break off and grow into new individuals. * What is a Lichen? * Lichens are dual organisms consisting of a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacterium. The fungus provides the alga with structure, protection, nutrients, and water absorbed from the atmosphere and the substrate (e.g., soil, rotten logs, tree branches). In return, the alga provides carbohydrates from photosynthesis to the fungus. Algae from some lichens grow independently of the fungus, but in lichen form, the algae can inhabit more challenging environments than when growing alone. Most lichens can reproduce asexually. They either produce specialized propagules containing both partners, or parts of the lichen simply break, allowing both the fungus and the alga to disperse together. In some lichens, the fungal partner reproduces sexually by releasing spores, but the partner alga must be present in order for a lichen to reform.

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USGS Numbered Series
Bryophytes and lichens: Small but indispensable forest dwellers
Series title:
Fact Sheet
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
4 p.
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