How many bryophytes are there in New York and are any of them rare?

Nat Cleavitt

Bryophytes compose a significant, although, as yet, not fully known portion of the state flora. Ketchledge (1980) remains the most recent checklist of mosses in the state and reports 461 species.  Published additions to the list add another ten bryophyte species (Eckel 1987, Slack et al. 1988, Eckel & Shaw 1991, Andrus et al. 1994, Town et al. 1994).  There is no published list of liverwort and hornwort taxa for the entire state of New York, but Schuster (1949) reported 132 species for central and western parts of the state.  Based on lists for the nearby smaller states of Vermont (McQueen 1992) and New Hampshire (Cleavitt 2004) this number will likely approach 150-170 species with coastal systems and the Adirondacks region included.  This leads to an estimate of 617-637 bryophyte species in New York.  This estimate exemplifies both the significant contribution of bryophytes to the total native flora of the state and also that the documentation of bryophytes in the state remains notably incomplete.  One key way to change this situation is by having more bryophytically trained eyes in the state!!

Perhaps more impressive than simple species richness are the ways that bryophytes act as crucial participants in both indicating and maintaining ecological integrity.  Bryophytes can be viewed most accurately as miniature ecosystems that are critical habitat for fungi, bacteria and many invertebrate groups (in turn important contributors to forest food webs) and they directly influence water and nutrient balances and soil temperature and moisture (Slack 1988, Longton 1992, Wilson & Coxson 1999).  These plants are also well documented as sensitive indicators for perturbation effects of imminent concern to ecosystem managers including atmospheric deposition and climate change (Pitcairn et al. 2003).  Therefore baseline data on the occurrence of bryophytes in New York in general and in under-studied communities in particular will be both of immediate and future use. 

The current list of rare moss taxa for the state (Clemants & Ketchledge 1993) is in need of revision.  Contributions by Allen (1991), Miller (1994), Leonardi (1996) and Trigoboff (this issue) illustrate this point well.  The list currently contains 164 species, 55 of which are listed as only being known from historical collections and an additional 26 species have uncertain rankings.  This adds up to about half of the species on the list having no practically usable rankings. Furthermore, in a preliminary check on the status of species placed on the list, the first 50 species (in alphabetical order) were entered into the New York Botanical Garden online database.  Species with S1 rankings ranged from having 0-33 collection records, several of the species with SH (only historically known) rank had collections in the 1990s, and six species had collections in the state but are not included in Ketchledge (1980) checklist.  In answer to the title question then – we really don’t know.  There is ample room for contributions to bryology in the state including right here in the Fingers Lakes region!  I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the FLNPS bryophyte walks and encourage you to keep those hand lenses handy!

Literature cited 

Andrus RE., Town WR. & Karlin, EF.1994. New York State Sphagnum revisions.     Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 121: 69-72.

Allen B. 1991. On the status of Isothecium myosuroides in NY. New York Rare         Bryophytes Newsletter 2: 1-3.

Cleavitt NL.  2004. Checklist of bryophyte taxa in New Hampshire. Evansia 21: 49-75.

Clemants SE & Ketchledge EH.  1993.  Rare moss status list. New York Natural        Heritage Program, Albany, NY.

Eckel PM.  1987.  Mosses new and rare for New York State. Rhodora 89: 375-379.

Eckel PM & Shaw AJ. 1991. Bryum rubens from Niagara Falls, new to New York.    Bryologist 94: 80-81.

Ketchledge EH. 1980. Revised checklist of the mosses of New York State.  New York State Museum Bulletin. 440, Albany, NY.

Leonardi L. 1996. Pseudotaxiphyllum distichaceum (Mitt.) Iwats. New York Rare   Bryophytes Newsletter 4: 1-3.

Longton RE.  1992.  The role of bryophytes and lichens in terrestrial ecosystems, pp. 32-76.  In: Bates, JW & Farmer AM (Eds.) Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

McQueen CB. 1992 The bryophytes of Vermont. Evansia 9: 65-88

Miller NG.  1994.  Heterocladium dimorphum (Brid.) Schimp. in B.S.G.  New York Rare Bryophytes Newsletter 3: 1-5.

Pitcairn CER, Fowler D, Leith ID, Sheppard LJ, Sutton MA, Kennedy V & Okello E. 2003. Bioindicators of enhanced nitrogen deposition. Environmental Pollution 126: 353-361

Schuster RM.  1949. The ecology and distribution of Hepaticae in central and western New York. American Midland Naturalist 42: 513-712

Slack NG.  1988.  The ecological importance of bryophytes.  pp 23-53. In: Nash TH & Wirth V. (Eds.) Lichens, bryophytes and air quality.  Bibliotheca Lichenologica 30.

Slack NG, Reschke C & Gilman B. 1988. Scorpidium turgescens rediscovered in New York State. Bryologist 91: 217-218.

Town WR, Corey M & Pudiak M. 1994.  A preliminary report of the moss flora of the northern Shawangunk Mountains of Ulster County, New York. Evansia 11: 22-27.

Wesley FR & Slack NG. 1991. Paludella rediscovered in New York. Evansia 8: 51.

Wilson JA & Coxson DS. 1999. Carbon flux in a subalpine spruce-fir forest: pulse release from Hylocomium splendens feather-moss mats.  Canadian Journal of Botany 77: 564-569