[Science news] - New publication on the bryophytes of Central Africa

Mon 8 May

Traditionally, Meise Botanic Garden has a focus on plant diversity in Central Africa. Its series Flore d’Afrique centrale, launched in 1942, maps out this diversity for flowering plants and ferns of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. But recently it has published the first part on bryophytes (a group of plants comprising true mosses, liverworts and hornworts) at the initiative of S. Robbert Gradstein, honorary staff member at Meise Botanic Garden since 2021. 

Central Africa is an important center of diversity for bryophytes and numerous collections are housed in the herbarium of Meise Botanic Garden. However, identification of this material remains difficult, due to the lack of a comprehensive manual for the region. Bryophytes are an ancient group of land plants that disperse by spores instead of seeds; about 16.000 species are known worldwide. 

They were among the first plants that invaded the terrestrial environment from the sea, about 500 million years ago. They differ from flowering plants and ferns in numerous respects, such as the absence of roots and vascular bundles, and the lack of a cuticle protecting them against desiccation. Bryophytes therefore preferably grow in damp environments. They play an important role in the ecosystem by their ability to capture and retain rain water, thus preventing erosion. Moreover, thick mats of bryophytes may offer substrate or shelter to a myriad of other organisms such as invertebrates, diatoms and other micro-organisms. Due to their sensitivity to changes in the environment bryophytes are good ecological indicators of disturbance and climate change. 

The first volume on bryophytes which has just been published provides a brief introduction on the characteristics and classification of the bryophytes and an identification key to the three divisions (mosses, liverworts, hornworts). Furthermore, it deals with the hornworts (Anthocerotophyta) and provides keys, descriptions and illustrations for the twelve hornwort species (in three genera) recorded from the area. One species is reported new to Africa and the occurrence in Africa of another species, previously considered a doubtful record, is confirmed. We hope that this new publication will prove a useful tool assisting botanical research and education within Central Africa and supporting  efforts to conserve and  manage the botanical richness of the region.

This new publication is on sale in our Webshop.